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The utilization of technology in the sport of football has been growing in recent years, but one aspect that has sparked intense discussions and scrutiny is the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.
In general, there is a belief that smaller and more obvious fouls are being handled better throughout the season thanks to additional assistance for on-field referees. However, there have been several noteworthy instances recently where clubs or individuals within them have expressed dissatisfaction with the final decision or the process of making decisions, with the most recent example occurring in the Champions League.
Erik ten Hag, the manager of Manchester United, expressed his disappointment with the numerous calls that did not go in their favor during their 4-3 loss to FC Copenhagen. One of these calls included the decision to give Marcus Rashford a red card for committing a serious foul.
Here’s everything on VAR you need to know, including the latest causes for complaint against it.
What is the issue?
In a recent incident, Manchester United expressed dissatisfaction with Rashford’s red card, which was issued for stepping on the foot and shin of an opposing player during a Champions League match. Ten Hag argued that his team had experienced three contentious penalty calls in four games and deemed the red card given to his forward as overly severe.
During a domestic football game, Mikel Arteta, the manager of Arsenal, expressed frustration over mistakes made by both on-field and VAR officials that ultimately led to his team’s loss against Newcastle. Similarly, Gary O’Neil, the coach of Wolves, criticized a penalty call given against his team and confirmed by VAR as “outrageous” – also against Newcastle.
Recently, Ange Postecoglou proposed that clubs are partly responsible for the lengthy delays caused by the use of VAR. He stated, “Some of it is our own doing because when we constantly complain about decisions, it leads to every decision being closely examined and we end up spending a lot of time in each game trying to understand what is happening.”
It should be highlighted that most of these are personal opinions and while Arteta may see fault, another manager, fan, or official may view the decision as justified.
A notable incident occurred during the match between Liverpool and Tottenham, where a goal scored by Luis Diaz for Liverpool was initially ruled offside but later allowed to stand, despite the VAR officials confirming that he was actually onside. This was due to a mistake made by the official, Darren England, who seemed to have overlooked the fact that the initial call was offside rather than a goal.
On the other end of the spectrum, Millie Bright expressed disapproval of the absence of VAR during the initial Women’s Nations League, when a blatantly offside goal was permitted against England despite being easily identifiable.
Additional VAR mistakes that PGMOL has apologized for include the failure to award a penalty to Wolves against Man United when Andre Onana collided with Sasa Kalajdzic, a Brentford goal against Arsenal not being properly reviewed with no offside lines drawn, and a West Ham goal being disallowed for a foul that was not apparent.
What has been successful?
There is actually quite a bit.
The focus is often on the few successful calls, while one call that receives a lot of criticism or is a matter of personal opinion is ignored, even if the majority disagrees with it.
In the eventful Tottenham vs Chelsea game, various goals were deemed offside with the assistance of VAR and a penalty was given after VAR review, resulting in Cristian Romero’s ejection.
In general, these calls are considered correct by most people and therefore do not receive special attention. This is due to the existence of technology that is designed to assist officials in making accurate calls upon review.
However, this does not imply that these errors do not happen. According to the Premier League, 82% of decisions were accurate in the season prior to VAR being implemented, which increased to 94% accuracy in the 2019/20 season.
What is the procedure for conducting VAR inspections?
According to the Premier League website, VAR will only be utilized in situations where there are clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents. These situations include goals, penalty decisions, direct red-card incidents, and mistaken identity.
If there are any matching scenarios or potential ones, VAR continuously reviews and supervises match recordings from the Stockley Park hub.
In the event of a decision needing to be made, the VAR or Assistant VAR (AVAR) will notify the referee to pause the game for further review. They will then suggest either overturning the original decision, conducting a monitor check on the sideline for the referee, or allowing play to continue with the initial on-field decision.
The referees must be notified of a check in progress before the ball becomes inactive, even if the game is currently in progress.
The referee has the option to review the monitor or follow the VAR’s suggestion. After examining the monitor, they can either stick with their original decision or change it, and then announce their new decision to the audience.
What did PGMOL state?
Howard Webb, the head referee of Professional Game Match Officials Limited, assumed the position last year with the goal of elevating the quality of officiating in English games and facilitating a more seamless implementation of technology.
The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) has informed the League Managers’ Association that they are currently working on ways to include Video Assistant Referees (VARs) in match-day referee teams. This is to create a positive dynamic between the on-field referee and the VAR, resulting in better outcomes.
Following the incident involving Diaz, the organization admitted to a significant mistake made by a human and implemented additional procedures to prevent it from happening again. They also publicly shared the audio recording of the incident, which was an uncommon action according to Webb, in order to demonstrate that it was a human error caused by a lack of focus.
Webb has proposed an increase in the number of officials specifically trained for Video Assistant Referee (VAR) duties. However, Lee Mason’s case serves as a warning. The former referee was appointed as a full-time VAR for the 2022/23 season but stepped down from the role last season after making a mistake in disallowing Brentford’s goal against Arsenal. This was not Mason’s first error, as he had previously been removed from officiating duties for incorrectly disallowing a goal for Newcastle. Former PGMOL boss Keith Hackett criticized Mason as a “repeat offender”. Despite this, Mason was re-hired at the beginning of the current season as a coach for lower league referees. It is unclear if he will continue to work with VAR, and the PGMOL has not confirmed his role or why he is considered qualified to train less-experienced officials despite being removed from his previous position.