The use of the new replay technology in UK football has divided fans, players and pundits alike.
On the 8th January, Brighton’s FA cup tie with Crystal Palace marked the first use of a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) within UK competitive football. Already introduced into high calibre leagues including the Bundesliga and Serie A, it is believed that with the addition of an off-field official, the accuracy of key decisions could be improved.
The lack of consistency in officiating is an issue yet to be addressed, partly due to the subjective nature of refereeing. Since a considerable amount of match-altering wrong decisions are made, access to detailed replays makes sense, but early concerns suggest VAR will heavily decelerate a sport becoming exponentially pacier. The notion of waiting almost two minutes for a decision seems absurd, frustrating players and subduing crowds.
In theory, VAR is implicated for ambiguous decisions regarding goals, red cards, penalties, and also cases of mistaken identity (Andre Marriner on Gibbs/Oxlade-Chamberlain). The International Football Association Board (IFAB) states that a 100% success rate for on-field decisions is not the aim, but to ensure that key decisions for match events are correct.
Perhaps the most notable instance of use thus far was Liverpool’s FA cup third round loss to West Brom. VAR was embroiled at the heart of the game, with the Baggies’ disallowed goal, Liverpool’s penalty, and WBA’s third goal all requiring VAR. It almost appeared as though referee Mike Whalley developed a dependency on the technology to clarify his decision making. Nonetheless, unhappy scousers flocked to Twitter, confused whether to scapegoat the referee or VAR for their loss.
However, a week later, Liverpool supporters sharply switched pro-VAR after their chaotic encounter with Spurs, in which a number of unforgivably poor refereeing decisions were made. Harry Kane’s late penalty secured a draw for Pochettino’s men, despite a somewhat dubious foul by Van Dijk, whilst an earlier Spurs penalty had an offside call in the process. These decisions would have almost certainly been reviewed if VAR was in operation.
Whilst VAR’s introduction has split fan opinion, the general consensus between players is predominantly negative. Veteran shot-stopper Gigi Buffon made comparisons with water-polo, slating the time-wasting involved. Germany international Sami Khedira recently labelled it a ‘catastrophe’, whilst Luka Modric was slightly less brash, simply saying ‘I don’t like it’.
Despite player protests, governing body FIFA are clear VAR advocates, suggesting is an integral part of the game’s natural development, insisting that it will have a major role in this year’s world cup. For domestic use, the IFAB have stated that VAR will continue its ‘trial’ period until the end of the 2017/18 season. If deemed successful, we can expect VAR in the 2018/19 Premier League campaign, VAR in European competitions, and a very unhappy Gianluigi Buffon.
By James Breese