The use of video assistant referees has been dominating the English football headlines in recent weeks. It has been trialled in certain Carabao Cup and FA Cup fixtures with a view to implement it in the coming seasons.
However, it has completely divided opinion over whether it should be installed or not. The general consensus is that VAR could well prove to be an asset to the game, but the decision-making process needs to speed up significantly.
The pros and cons of VAR were highlighted during Liverpool’s defeat to West Brom in the FA Cup 4th round on Saturday night. First of all, it is important that we remember that VAR got all the key decisions right. However, when a team goes 3-1 up at Anfield, their fans should be allowed to go into raptures over it. But because referee Craig Pawson wanted to check the legitimacy of the goal, there was a couple of minutes of confusion before it was (correctly) allowed to stand.
During that break, the clock ticked on and the West Brom and Liverpool fans had no idea what was going on before Pawson pointed to the halfway line to signify a West Brom goal. People sitting on their sofa could see what was going on, but the fans who paid money to go to the stadium were left in the dark. At the very least, they deserve to see what is going on via big screens in the stadium. Some may claim the home fans might influence the referee’s decision, but I am sure they are all qualified enough to be unfazed by this.
If VAR is here to stay, football should take a leaf out of rugby’s book. Following the decision to award Liverpool a penalty after Jake Livermore’s pull back on Mo Salah, the West Brom players were in uproar, which only contributed to prolong the stoppage. The referee’s (or VAR’s) decision is final, and protestations should be penalised with a yellow card. Only the captain should be allowed to speak to the referee in order to avoid a repeat of the chaos on Saturday night.
In rugby, all major stoppages result in the clock stopping with a sharp blow of the whistle and the raising of the referee’s arm. Why can’t football follow suit? The officials should have the power to stop the clock exclusively for VAR decisions. That way, no time will be lost to the decision-making process and we can still enjoy the potential drama that takes place in injury time.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that, unlike in rugby and cricket where the introduction of technology has been a resounding success, many of the decisions made by referees are subjective. You can look at a penalty incident fifty times and there will still be those who think it is a penalty and those who think it isn’t.
The same with whether a handball is deliberate or not or whether a foul warrants a yellow or red card. However, it is these subjective decisions that make football the nation’s favourite sport – it is a topic of discussion in pubs, schools and offices around the country. Taking five minutes to study one 50/50 incident would disrupt the flow and momentum of the game. The fast pace of football matches is what has helped to attract the global audience that now follow the sport. To disturb this would be detrimental to the game.
Having said that, if you ask Irish football fans whether they would have wanted VAR in their World Cup 2010 play-off against France, then they would all say yes. Thierry Henry’s clear and blatant handball which led to France’s winner would have been spotted and Irish hearts may not have been broken.
Technology has the potential to revolutionise the game for the better. Does anybody now argue against the use of goal line technology? The process should start with the referee calling for a timeout, then the replay being put on the big screen for all fans to see, and if the referee has made a ‘clear and obvious’ mistake (i.e. it can be proved within 30 seconds) then the decision should be overturned. If not, carry on with the match, don’t disrupt the flow of the sport we love and save the debate until the pub after the game.
Written by Dan Walker.