How will VAR impact the Premier League?
Background photo: Eric Jason Cross, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Premier League will introduce the Video Assistant Referee this coming season. The system was used at last year's World Cup and in the 2018/19 Champions League knockout stages. The FA Cup even took it on, albeit only in the stadia which hosts Premier League football. VAR has been a success, most would agree. Others will argue it's unnecessary, making the game less enjoyable.
Referees are the most important figures on the pitch. A wrong call could ultimately define his or her career. Who can forget Martin Hansson? Not the Irish that's for sure. In a 2010 World Cup playoff, Hansson let a goal stand after France's Thierry Henry had handled in the build-up. Nevertheless, year-on-year provisions are being made to make life easier for the refs.
The Video Assistant Referee entered the scene some five years ago. It was first used in the Dutch Eredivise, to a limited extent, before FIFA took an interest. VAR has been used at every major international tournament since.
The Premier League took a while to implement it. Perhaps a matter of waiting to see its effect on other top European leagues. The Serie A and Bundesliga introduced VAR in 2017/18 and La Liga last season. It isn't restricted to Europe. Leagues in Asia and the Americas haven't been left behind. Although Africa, as is usually the case, continues to ponder.
One criticism is VAR slows the game, as more often than not, the referee will review an incident several times before reaching a decision. However, the Premier League has stated refs can only watch replays a maximum of three times
Another issue is VAR's inconsistencies. The referee ultimately decides whether to consult it. Therefore, in an instance where a player is unfairly dismissed, the ref can produce a red card without a second check.
In truth, VAR won't ensure the correct decision is always made, no matter how many replays are watched. Football is subjective.
For those worried about unnecessary stoppages, VAR won't be consulted for the little calls such as awarding of a throw-in and whether to grant a corner or goal kick. At least according to the rule book. The technology is for bigger decisions. Cases like an incident leading to a goal, a potential handball or foul, perhaps. When a player is sent off, too, as well as instances of mistaken identity.
Last season witnessed some goals wrongly disallowed. Conversely, quite a few really shouldn't have stood. Sadio Mane's goal in February's 1-1 draw against West Ham United, for example, should have been chalked off since James Milner, who provided the cross, received the ball in an offside position. Liverpool fans will say things even out as their side should have had a penalty against Leicester City when Ricardo Pereira stomped on Naby Keita's foot. Would it have changed the 1-1 outcome? More than likely.
The cards issued, too. Seriously, how did Vincent Kompany avoid an early shower against Burnley for his reckless challenge on Aaron Lennon? Newcastle United's on-loan Kenedy didn't even get a booking for kicking Cardiff City's Victor Camarasa in the shin after the ball had gone. It was malicious and he undoubtedly would have seen red had the referee been better positioned. With VAR, decisions like these should be a thing of the past. It couldn't have come soon enough.
Countless times players hit the deck after little or no contact in a bid to win penalties and free-kicks. If they're skilled actors, they prosper from it. Until now, referees didn't have the chance to review. VAR will reduce diving this season. Due to a player knowing every movement is being monitored closely on screen, they're bound to comport themselves. The unruly ones included.
Overall, VAR makes for a cleaner game. The pushing and shoving which takes place in the box during set plays will reduce somewhat. As will the occasional dangerous, hard challenges.
Contrary to what Sepp Blatter and others believe, technology is not harmful to football. Look at goal-line technology and how that has helped. It seems ages ago when whether the ball had crossed the line was a regular debate.
VAR isn't perfect. Yet, it's proven a tremendous success wherever used. The Premier League will be better for it.