Controversy in football has never been very far away — from the big moments, such as England’s third goal in 1966, to stories that mean everything to us as West Ham fans — Tevez, Allardyce, being “robbedâ€ by the bigger clubs in big matches, and so on.
Now, though, there’s a new controversy that’s been thrown into the Premier League this season — VAR. Short on letters, big on talking points. And, no shortage of people lining up to say how much they hate it.
Before the season started, VAR got the thumbs up from me. I think it’s fairer, and should mean the rules are applied consistently.
And 60,000-odd Manchester City, Liverpool or other member of the “big sixâ€ fans can’t influence a man sat in a truck somewhere in London as easily as they can an on-field referee.
Plus, it adds a bit of theatre too — there’s a genuine tension when waiting for the outcome of a decision. I liked it, and I’m glad it was introduced.
I’ve seen too many wrong decisions that infuriate me — and we seem to have been on the wrong end of a few — for something not to be done about it.
A handful of games into the new season, and I may be a lone voice here — but I still think it’s a good thing.
It’s probably worth going over how VAR should work. Essentially, the VAR team, separated from the action, are constantly monitoring the game, checking every referee decision.
If they don’t identify a mistake, then this is communicated to the referee, but no-one would notice in game- play and the match continues without delay.
However, if they do identify a mistake, and it falls into one of the following categories: Goal / no goal decision, Penalty / no penalty decision, Direct red card, and Mistaken identity (in awarding a red / yellow card)
A VAR check takes place for a ‘clear and obvious error’, which can cause a delay to the match.
If this is identified, a decision can be overturned on the advice of VAR, an on-field review can be recommended (if there is a subjective decision to make), or the referee can choose to ignore the VAR advice. In each case, the final decision rests with the referee.
Personally, I find it difficult to see how anyone with an eye for fairness in the game could possibly argue with this set of rules.
It’s the least obtrusive possible, and in the Premier League, the bar has been set high so that decisions shouldn’t affect the play so much.
And yet, as I write this, the Knees Up Mother Brown forum’s thread on the topic is rapidly approaching 50 pages, most of whom are very anti-VAR.
I find this difficult to fathom, because as far as I can see VAR is getting the decisions right, and isn’t that what people want?
I get it, I really do. I hate the notion that West Ham might score a goal in the 93rd minute of the match against Tottenham to win the Premier League and I can celebrate wildly only to find that after a delay of about 90 seconds, the goal is ruled out.
But if there’s no infringement in the build-up to the goal, there’s no reason why the goal would be chalked off.
Isn’t the problem more the rules, than the fact that VAR is highlighting it?
One of Manchester City’s goals against us on the opening day (ugh) was disallowed ‘due to VAR’ because the ball hit a player’s arm before the goal was scored.
But that wasn’t VAR’s fault — that just highlighted the issue. If the ball hits the arm, there is no goal, and even if you disagree with the rule, you can’t argue that the rule wasn’t implemented.
There’s also been talk of inconsistency, but I think it’s about as consistent as it’s going to get.
Antonio appeared to be tripped either marginally outside or inside the box against Brighton — nothing given, but (and I could be wrong) I assumed this was because the foul was deemed to be outside the box and this was communicated to the referee as the correct decision without the crowd knowing.
The reality is that I don’t want to be writing a piece for BBM in May moaning about the fact that we were denied a European place (hah!) because of a clear and obvious error by the referee.
VAR, as it is operated by humans, will always be subjective. But I
for one am glad that it is here, because we might get some correct decisions go our way at Old Trafford for once.
And for that alone, surely, we should be grateful?