Monday, October 19, 2020

Another view on VAR

 I recently watched Everton-Liverpool in the Premier League. In the dying seconds of the match, with the score 2-2, Liverpool scored a goal that would give them the victory in a well-played match. After celebrations and comments, the referee cancelled the goal, based on a VAR decision that Sadio Mane (who made the pass for the goal by Jordan Henderson) was in an off-side position.

In the reviews they showed on TV it was incredibly difficult to see that Sadio Mane was anything but in line with the defenders, and it appears impossible to refute or agree that one part of his body was a few millimeters ahead any of the defenders. In real life it will have been impossible for a referee or linesman to see, and I doubt any Everton players would have complained for a goal given; nobody would have reviewed the goal!

Maybe it was off side. But that is in my view not the point of the VAR. It is to review when the referee "has made a clear and obvious error". When the VAR referees sit in their little room and want to review errors that are not "clear and obvious", they are not adding value to the quality or justice of the game, but rather contributing just another layer to controversial decisions. 

I am not against VAR. But it should be used with a caution that the people who make decisions do not seem to understand. The point is not to make football error-proof, because it never will be, but rather to reduce the worst and most controversial decisions: a clear off-side goal; a clear hand-goal; doubt on crossing the line. 

Besides this, there is a problem in who decides: the entire decision process of the VAR should be entirely in the hands of the referee that is no the pitch. He or she should alone decide whether to ask for a VAR review and should be alone making a decision based on VAR for those situation that he or she considers difficult, and an off-side situation it should happen in consultation with the linesman. The VAR referees should not be able to decide after the fact.

I know this will return pressure on the referee; the same pressure that there was before the the advent of VAR. But VAR should be a tool for the referee; just like his or her cards, the whistle or the linesmen, but if it is not a tool, it becomes just another layer of football bureaucracy to the detriment of what is best for the game.

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