VAR comes under EPL clubs’ microscope
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VAR comes under EPL clubs’ microscope

Next Friday all 20 Premier League clubs will be voting on whether to keep the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) technology. It will require 14 of the clubs — a two-thirds majority — to vote for scrapping it for it to be discontinued.

Whatever the outcome, after five rather volatile years in operation it is probably a good time for those directly concerned to have a healthy debate on the matter which has polarised opinion.

The call for a vote was led by Wolverhampton Wanderers who felt they were on the wrong end of too many VAR decisions last season while Nottingham Forest were also very vocal about perceived incorrect decisions. In fact, just about every manager has voiced complaints about VAR over the season.

There’s probably not one football fan that has not cursed a VAR decision at some time. But at the same time there are a lot of fans that are quite happy when VAR has intervened and a decision goes their way. It’s all very subjective.

And that is partly where the dilemma lies. You rarely hear clubs or fans complaining about VAR when their side has won. But of course it goes deeper than that.

The biggest and most justified complaint about VAR is that it takes away the spontaneous joy of a goal being scored, especially for supporters at the ground. Fans cannot fully celebrate until VAR delivers its verdict which on occasions can take far too long. And when the outcome is a goal being disallowed for an unintentional hand ball or an offside by a toe-nail that’s when things get messy.

The original idea of VAR was to intervene when there had been “a clear and obvious error”. If they had stuck to that basic rule it would have been a lot more effective. It sounds sensible and simple but in practice has become far too complex. If it’s “clear and obvious” they should arrive quickly at the decision. But often it takes several minutes and sometimes that decision is unconvincing.

In the old days it seemed so straightforward. A goal was a goal unless the linesman had raised the flag for offside or the ref spotted an infringement. Of course the offside rules have changed dramatically, not necessarily for the better. Now we have a debate of whether someone is interfering with play or not.

As the late Brian Clough famously observed: “If a player is not interfering with play then he should not be on the pitch.”

One argument in favour of scrapping VAR is that the Championship has not used it and doesn’t seem any the worse for not having it. However, according to the Premier League statistics for the recent season correct decisions had increased from 82 per cent to 96 per cent under VAR.

Despite all the calls for scrapping VAR, many clubs may prefer to keep it on condition that significant improvements are made in its current operation. In other words, make it less complicated.

While those opposed to VAR have many valid points they perhaps need to be careful about what they wish for. If it were scrapped after a few bad decisions by referees, one suspects it wouldn’t be long before fans and managers started demanding its reintroduction.

There’s always a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

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