Three rounds into the new season and VAR (video assistant referee) took no time to make its mark on the English Premier League. The thrilling nature of the league is ingrained in English football. The sheer excitement, drama, and exhilaration are what makes the league ‘the best in the world’. However, in recent weeks the joyous action taking place on the field has been overshadowed by the introduction of VAR.
With football finally catching up to the rest of the sporting world with the implementation of technology, none has been more controversial than the video assistant referee. In fact, there is still confusion over when and why the technology should be used and that confusion is starting to show. The mere sight of seeing the referee signalling for the TV screen is slowing draining the excitement out of the league.
Although the implementation of VAR into football is still in its infancy, the technology is not and will not be perfect for some time. A long road ahead is to be expected. To ensure the technology enjoyed a smooth transition, The Premier League has been monitoring its use in other competitions over the last few years including the Women’s World Cup (were the ” overuse” of VAR was heavily criticized), the Champions League, the FA Cup and other European leagues. To help with the implementation and avoid the controversy that was seen in previous tournaments, the league ran educational sessions for players, managers and the media to ensure everyone understood how and when it will be used.
Despite the Premier League’s best efforts to ensure a smooth transition, many fans are already becoming agitated about the change. The opening weekend saw three goals disallowed courtesy of the video referee. Deep into injury time of Manchester City’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur, Gabriel Jesus seemingly won all three points for The Citizens, only for the video referee to correctly rule the goal out. In this instance, it’s hard to argue against VAR, as the check found that the ball hit the hand of Aymeric Laporte which coincided with the new handball rule. So, the goal correctly, should not have stood. However the penalty claim during the Newcastle vs Tottenham game this past weekend that was dismissed thanks to VAR wasn’t as cut and dry to call.
The main concern from fans alike is the atmosphere in stadiums, with many complaining that it’s ruining the game by removing the natural excitement that comes with controversial decisions. One of the joys of football is erupting into celebration when the ball hits the back of the net. Those moments of pure adrenaline could soon become a thing of the past, with fans cautious of celebrating too early, just in case the goal is disallowed. Last weekend’s match between Wolves and Manchester United was the subject such caution. Inside the Molineux, there was a moment of panic and uncertainty when Wolves playmaker Ruben Neves equalized against Manchester United in the 55th minute. Although the goal stood, what should have been a moment of celebration was overshadowed, as the referee awaited confirmation in his earpiece.
It’s these small decisions that were heavily criticized at the Women’s World Cup. And these moments of uncertainty that could dampen the atmosphere and excitement in games. Having said that, waiting for the video referee to make a penalty decision in the dying minutes of a game is both excruciating and exhilarating. In this instance, I’m an advocate for VAR. Of the video referee being used for every small decision? I am not.
The introduction of the video assistant referee has split opinion amongst fans, players, managers and pundits alike. Although it is has greatly assisted officials in helping make the correct decision, the thrill of the game has seemingly come at the expense of such technology. The policy of using VAR not only needs to improve but also needs clarity of when and how it should be used. As of right now, not many fans have been won over by the modern change.
I’m of the opinion that VAR has great potential to make life easier for officials. Like with any other new technology, there will be hiccups and those should be expected. We cannot assume that it will work 100 percent of the time at the snap of our fingers. VAR will improve as the technology gets better. As much as we fight against the change, VAR is going to stay, and we need to accept that and embrace our new overlords.
Post by Kevin Wong. Follow him here on Twitter.