Three ways to improve VAR in the Premier League

Since being widely implemented around four years ago, nothing has polarised football fans quite like VAR, and that’s saying something.

Last weekend in the Premier League countless decisions, specifically those going against Newcastle and West Ham, once again brought the anger to the forefront, reigniting the generally furious zeitgeist.

While millions believe the game would be better off with VAR, myself included, the technology is, unfortunately, here to stay.

However, if VAR continues to be used in the manor it is now, ultimately, all of the joy will be sucked out of football.

In 10 years time or so, no one will bother spontaneously celebrating a goal and, if we reach this dystopian future, then what is even the point?

So, here’s three way VAR’s impltimatnion could be improved as we fight to save the beautiful game.

1) If unsure, go to the monitor immediately. What are you waiting for?

The biggest issue surrounding VAR is the delay to the game is causes.

Football, by it’s very nature, is free-flowing and rhythmic, something the technology will only ever disrupt.

A key bug-bear is when the referee is standing in the middle of the pitch, finger to his ear, while everyone stands around and waits... and waits... and waits.

Surely, one way to help this issue is if referees were more proactive and ran over to the pitch-side monitor immediately.

For example, if a possible handball takes place in the penalty area, the players all appear, and the ball ricochets out for a corner.

Perhaps, the referee’s view was precluded by a player running in font of them, or they just happened to be standing at an inopportune angle.

Right now, the official will stand for 90 seconds, possible two minutes or more, waiting for the VAR to given them permission to look at the screen.

>99% of the time when this happens, it’s merely performative; the decision has already been made.

Surely, it would be better if the on-field official took some responsibility by saying ‘I’m unsure if an offence was committed, I’d like another look’.

This though would require some common sense, something the PGMOL seem to be allergic to, similar to the way sunlight torments vampires.

2) Make offside clear-cut; new technology may help

While handball is a laws of the game issue, the other big problem fans have with VAR regards offside.

Obviously, using video technology is more accurate than a person crab-running wielding a ropey flag, but it turns out we don’t want offside calls to be right, we’d prefer them to be morally correct.

When the offside law was introduced in 1863, it was to prevent attackers literally goal-hanging or standing next to opposing goalkeepers.

Fast forward 159 years and goals are being disallowed because a players’ toe-nail or armpit hair is offside.

For example: what advantage does Enock Mwepu, who doesn’t even tough the ball by the way, gain from being a picometer closer to the goal than the last defender in the below scenario? Absolutely none.

To help solve this issue, I’d propose the inverse of the current laws.

Right now, if any part of a player that can score a goal, basically excluding arms, is offside, they are offside.

What about if any part of a player that can score a goal is onside then they are onside?

Of course, there would still be marginal calls, the boarder has to be drawn somewhere, but at least this way the benefit is given to the attacker and less goals will be ruled out.

Aside from the actual laws of the game changing, the way offside decisions are being made is already evolving.

FIFA first trialed semi-automated offside technology (SAOT) at last year’s Arab Cup in Qatar, ahead of November’s World Cup.

Below is the official explainer of how it works, in case you’re unfamiliar.

UEFA have also jumped on the SAOT bandwagon, with this first being used in European football in the Champions League group stages that kicked off just this week.

Hopefully, this’ll be vastly quicker and more accurate than a guy in a booth picking the correct freeze-frame and drawing lines with a ruler.

3) Revert to ‘clear and obvious error’

The idea of video technology coming into football refereeing can specifically be traced back to 18 November 2009 in Paris.

That night, William Gallas’ goal in extra time saw France qualify for the following summer’s World Cup at Republic of Ireland’s expense.

But, it wasn’t Gallas who grabbed all the headlines, as the man who’d set him up, Thierry Henry, had clearly handled the ball twice before providing the assist.

This wasn’t spotted by Swedish referee Martin Hansson or his team, with FIFA actually paying the FAI €5 million in an out-of-court settlement.

If VAR had been around back then, the goal would’ve been disallowed and who knows, the Irish may well have prevailed at Stade de France.

So, when thinking about the historical context as to why VAR was first introduced, it leaves one mystified how we’ve reached the point we’re at today.

When it was introduced in the Premier League in 2019, the two slogans that was constantly used were ‘clear and obvious error’ as well as ‘minimum interference, maximum benefit’.

Evidence of both can be seen from UEFA and the Premier League below.

In the full-length version of that aforementioned Premier League introductory video, they claim ‘communicating with fans is a priority’ and ‘we don’t want to unnecessarily delay the game’.

Oh yeah, how’s that going?

No doubt, UEFA, the Premier League, IFAB and everyone else came into this with good intentions.

Using the Henry handballs as the gold standard, this is what VAR should be used for, not for dubious, debatable fouls that took place 30 seconds before a goal is scored.

In the Premier League for incidence, VAR should only rear it’s ugly head perhaps once a week, rather than 4-5 times a game.

At the moment, the video assistant referees are obsessed with analysing every decision in microscopic detail, often four 4+ minutes.

This has to stop, we as a public have to accept some decisions will be contentious, and then video replay can only be used sparingly to correct absolute howlers.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".

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