After watching the three Premier League matches on July 9/20 the 1969 Edwin Starr song “War – What is it good for?” popped into me head followed by the line “Absolutely nothing” and then it became “VAR – What is it good for?” well you get the rest. Ask Dean Smith, Eddie Howe, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho off camera to finish the line and I’ll bet it’s “Absolutely nothing” with a few colourful words thrown in for free.
Let’s go back to the start of the season and the implementation of VAR in the Premier League and it seemed simply enough as there were only four items for review under VAR and they are Goals, Penalties, Straight Red Cards and Mistaken Identity. Well I can honestly say the only one the referees haven’t messed up is Mistaken Identity, unless I missed it.
We know that all goals are reviewed now and generally offside is the main culprit for a goal to be disallowed and I have no problem with someone being a toe offside because the lines on the screen used by VAR are clear cut. So offside is offside and I‘ll give VAR that one. The other reason, as we saw for Bournemouth, is that a goal can’t be scored by handball. To the naked eye that goal is given but VAR spotted the handball and according to the laws of the game it was disallowed. The handball rule is confusing at the best of times, was his hand in an unnatural position, was he was too close to react and where does the shoulder end and arm begin? Now I hear that the hand ball rule will be changed for next season. Stay tuned for that one.
Before we talk about the three errors yesterday that led to two awarded penalties and one that should have been given (sorry Harry Kane) we need to address the elephant in the room which is really, really causing the problem with VAR and that is the ‘clear and obvious error’ wording. Seems straight forward right well not so fast, apparently the referees don’t seem to think so. I thought maybe I’m being too hard on those VAR refs stuck in the VAR room in Stockley Park, London but not really as they are in a rotation with all Premier League referees so one day you are the match official, next as the fourth official and then in the VAR room. By the way anyone want the job as a fourth official?? So we can’t blame the VAR and his assistant for not understanding the play on the pitch.
Let’s look at the Aston Villa vs. Manchester United match and the penalty awarded to the Red Devils; in real time it didn’t look like a penalty in fact I thought the ref was calling a foul for Villa because the defender had his leg stood on. The ref awards a penalty and after watching the replay just like the VAR did, I said “well that will be called back because it’s a clear and obvious error”. Wrong. This is what VAR was brought in for to correct the mistake made by the on field referee, but no, the VAR officials agreed with the ref. It changed the course of the match, we can’t say Villa would have won, probably not, but it put them behind the eight ball.
The James Ward-Prowse penalty was also one I thought would be overturned as it was clear in the replay he was falling into the defender when there was contact. Again I thought that one would be overturned and again I was wrong, maybe the football gods agreed as the penalty rattled off the cross bar.
I have sympathy for defenders in the penalty box because as soon as you touch a forward he goes down like being hit by a ton of NORI bricks and generally gives a performance worthy of an Oscar or Golden Globe at least. However you can’t put two arms on a forward’s back and push him down. This one will be reviewed I said and a penalty will be given to Spurs, wrong again. It was certainly not the day for me to buy a lottery ticket.
What makes it worse is that a former referee working for the PL match centre told Match of the Day in the UK that “incorrect penalty decisions were made by the VAR in all three matches”. Ouch!!
We hear all too often that the officials will learn from this, but it’s getting worse. Why isn’t the on field ref encouraged to utilize the pitch side monitor like they do in Europe, why isn’t the fourth official looking at the same monitor and communicating with the referee that maybe he made the wrong decision? There are six officials assigned to each match, four on the field and two in the VAR room surely someone can get the decision right? Apparently the on field referee has been told to avoid using the pitch side monitor because they cause long delays, I’m sure the four managers from yesterday wouldn’t mind another 30 to 60 seconds if it meant the right decision. If they are concerned about delays then as I mentioned before utilize the fourth official to review the monitor after all he’s right there, seems like an easy fix to me. Feel free to use that idea PL and there’s no charge.
If we were to give VAR a report card like we use to get in school it would be a C- with the teacher’s comment “has potential but can do so much better”.
Before next season the PL needs to clarify, change or get rid of the ‘clear and obvious error’ wording because it’s clear and obvious to me and Jose (Mourinho) when “I say everybody I mean everybody” knows it's not working.