The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has undoubtedly been met with mixed reactions by players, managers, pundits and fans alike.
While some maintain the video technology is destroying the beauty of the game, others are of the opinion that it has helped improve decision-making in football.
One-time English Premier League referee and the current head of the Professional Referee Organisation (PRO), Howard Webb claimed VAR technology has been brought in not as a perfect decision-making mechanism, as it definitely has its flaws and controversies, but to aid in football decisions.
Webb, who has overseen the affairs of the PRO since 2017, stated that he sees the technology as an evolving one that can only get better.
While speaking to reporters, Webb said, “There’s no doubt, though, that the existence of VAR gives officials confidence knowing any decision they make would be checked by a colleague who’s highly trained and an intervention will come if, in the opinion of that highly trained individual, an error has been made” He further said “So we don’t expect perfection, but we aim for it. We find we’re getting better each time and more efficient each year. But I would caution people never to expect they’ll agree with every single outcome every time because we’re still dealing with human beings and I think in some ways people don’t actually mind that.” Webb has also stated he is “open-minded to potential rule changes and technology as it develops, as long as it helps referees correctly call a match”.
In addition, the veteran referee said MLS Vice President of Competition Jeff Agoos and himself both sit on the FIFA working group around innovation in video review, and are “keeping a close eye on how the auto offside tracking, for example, develops.”
As of now, a total of 36 domestic competitions use the VAR and the technology is also used in the World Cup, the UEFA Champions League and other International and Continental tournaments.
The VAR technology controversies have been much more pronounced during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2019/2020 English Premier League season. This is in no small part due to the very contentious decisions reached with the aid of the technology.
In the Premier League, what the VAR basically reviews are the Goal/No goal decision, Penalty/no penalty, direct red card (not second yellow card/caution) and the mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player) situations. However, the technology will not review any yellow card (including second yellow card leading to red) or any free-kick offence outside the box (other than red card offence).
During the Premier League season, a total of 109 goals or incidents were directly affected by the VAR, with 27 of the decisions leading to goals while 56 led to disallowed goals. VAR technology also awarded 22 penalties in which nine of them were missed. Seven spot kick decisions were overturned by the technology, one for offside.
The most contentious calls using the VAR, are the offside decisions. A very good example was where Serie A outfit, Sassuolo were denied four goals in the space of 30 minutes during their match against Napoli last month. All goals were deemed offside by VAR.
It all happened between the 31st and 61st minutes. Attacking midfielder, Filip Đuričić netted twice in the 31st and 37th minutes, but the goals were disallowed before Francesco Caputo and Domenico Berardi’s efforts in the 49th and 61st minutes were also outrightly cancelled by the VAR for the same reason. That said, all four decisions reached by the VAR were surprisingly very correct.
Napoli eventually won the match 2-0, scoring a goal either side of the four disallowed goals. Meanwhile, thousands of viewers across the globe empathized with Roberto de Zerbi’s players and even majority of comments on social media stated the team was robbed. Quite sure some of them would have changed their minds after carefully reviewing the decisions.
During the 2019 Women’s World Cup, VAR made some controversial decisions. In Scotland’s final group game, they were leading Argentina 3-0 with 20 minutes to the end of the match. Amazingly, the Argentines scored two quick-fire goals to bring the match back into contention. Argentina needed at least a draw to keep their knockout hopes alive and secure a knockout stage spot. In the 86th minute, following a lengthy check, VAR awarded a penalty to the South Americans after a tackle by Scottish defender Sophie Howard was overlooked.
The penalty kick was stopped by goalkeeper Lee Alexander, but another VAR review concluded that she had left her line early, ensuring the penalty was taken again. Flor Bonsegundo scored the penalty and Argentina secured a point from the match while Scotland finished in fourth place in Group D, ultimately eliminated from the tournament.
That was the third time VAR determined a keeper had come off her line at the World Cup and the second time the decision had come with consequential results. In a match, Nigeria was holding on to a goalless draw against host-nation France and a penalty kick taken was stopped only for VAR to determine a second attempt was needed.
Within the few years of the introduction of the VAR technology, there have been numerous contentious issues, but one cannot overlook the good VAR technology has done in making correct decisions which the referees might otherwise have misjudged or missed.
In as much as the VAR has the ability to improve the game, there is the need to be cautious and hope some reviews will be made about the technology to make for better decision-making in football.