Refereeing and use of VAR play part in roaring success of Euro 2020

Surely after last season’s shockers, we’ll see changes with how VAR is used in the Premier League?

Well what do you know, VAR isn’t going to be the death of football as we know it after all.

It turns out it’s just English officials’ implementation of it that made the Premier League virtually unwatchable last season.

Now I don’t want to make my first column of the new season about Brexit after just two sentences, but I have officially added VAR and match officiating to the long list of things I wish Europeans were still in charge of in this country.

Euro 2020 was a roaring success. For England, for officiating and for VAR.

In my May column last season, I shared quotes from former Premier League referee Mark Halsey who spoke to me on our We Are West Ham podcast.

The 60-year-old officiated in England’s top flight across three separate decades after his Prem debut in 1999.

And he said in May: ‘There’s nothing wrong with VAR, it’s the personnel who are using it.

‘With offsides, it’s factual, you are off or you’re on but we’ve seen so many incidents this season where goals should have been given for that toe nail, that heel.

‘So take away those lines, use the naked eye and you can tell by the first replay if someone is a yard or half a yard offside.

‘If you can’t tell he’s off within the first or second replay, 15 seconds, bang it’s a goal.

‘Refereeing is not a science, it’s an art. But the powers that be have to listen to the fans.’

And as far as the Euros go, the powers that be are UEFA. An organisation not overly accustomed to receiving praise but let’s give it a go.

When compared with Euro 2016, this summer’s tournament saw less fouls and yellow cards awarded.

Fouls dropped from 1,290 to 1,113 and the number of yellows given also went down from 205 to 152.

Red cards actually doubled from three to six but the overall feel of the tournament was a liberal one which resulted in free flowing and far more enjoyable football.

As well as the officials themselves, it is UEFA Referees Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti who deserves our appreciative words.

The Italian former ref is in charge of all things officiating at the governing body and was the main ‘off-field’ decision maker at Euro 2020.

Speaking after England’s penalty shootout defeat to Italy, Rosetti said: ‘The refereeing at the Euros was extremely successful, and we’re very satisfied.

‘There were some great performances – not only from the referees, but also from the assistant referees. The referees were always in control and produced a very high level of accuracy in their decision-making.

‘They’ve been professional in everything that they’ve done – we’re very proud of them.

‘The scope to criticise the referees was very limited. Their work over 51 matches was seamless. We saw more positive comments about referees than ever before.

And the VAR stats tell a similar tale. There were 276 incidents checked in 51 matches – 5.4 incidents-per-game.

Of those, 93.5 per cent of the original on-field decisions were found to be correct.

There were 18 VAR corrections across the tournament. Nine were offside decisions, four were foul play, two were handballs, one was a use of an elbow, one was for a ‘hard tackle’ and one was denying a goal-scoring opportunity.

Of the 18, 10 were ‘direct corrections’ by the VAR and the remaining eight were corrected after on-field reviews by the ref.

Ultimately there was one correction every 2.83 matches. And blimey, didn’t it feel good when compared with last season’s Prem.

Rosetti said the work of the VAR teams was exemplary.

He gushed: ‘I believe Europe has the best VARs in the world. We feel that VAR is an incredible tool for football, because it helps prevent clear and obvious refereeing mistakes.

‘The 18 VAR corrections at the Euros were all 100 per cent right, which shows the quality of the work that the VAR teams did.

‘We can accept referees’ mistakes on the field – these can happen – but it’s very difficult to accept mistakes by VARs in front of a video screen.

‘Consequently, we were pleased that the Euro 2020 VARs’ decisions were so reliable.’

So, over to you Mike Riley and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL).

Many are quick to sneer at Halsey for criticising from afar now he is no longer involved in the game in an official capacity.

But after another look at his words from the end of last season, perhaps his views should be taken a little more seriously.

He said: ‘If you look at International Football Association Board protocol, for me, it’s not VAR. It’s the personnel implementing it in the Premier League.

‘It’s the leadership and direction from the PGMOL management, that’s where the problem lies.

‘There are so many incidents where VAR is getting involved when it shouldn’t be. A clear and obvious error or a serious incident missed, that’s when they should get involved.

‘Some of the referees are re-refereeing the game and that’s not what VAR is there for. I blame the PGMOL.’

Halsey is right and I hope the PGMOL adopts some of Uefa’s practices going forward. But I must sign off by tipping my hat to Prem ref Anthony Taylor.

His swift, calm and decisive action during the heart-wrenching incident that saw Christian Eriksen collapse after a cardiac arrest, may well have saved the Dane’s life.

The most important refereeing decision of the whole tournament. By a million miles.

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