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VAR From Perfect For Refs in the EPL

We need to talk about VAR. Actually, to be more accurate, we need to stop talking about VAR given that weekend after weekend in the EPL, it seems to be the only thing we are talking about.

ref looks at VAR screen

VAR From Perfect: EPL Refs Still Struggling With Technology

Dave Bowler author logo

By Dave Bowler

Once upon a long ago, in a time far, far away, people dreamt of a time when there would no longer be any mistakes, when referees would be given the tools to deliver perfection and we would all live happily ever after, free from controversy and free to talk only about the wonderful accuracy of our scorelines.

Going well, isn’t it?

In fairness to the technology, we are asking it to do something for which it is not equipped – deliver perfection. However many camera angles you may have, however much you can slow something down, in a physical game, played at high speed and with increasingly nebulous laws, you cannot always come to a conclusion on which everybody is agreed in every instance. And once you have accepted that, you have pretty much ended the case for VAR.

Clear and Obvious Error

The tagline for its introduction in the Premier League this term was that it would only be used in the case of “clear and obvious error”. Which, of course, has only made things worse. One person’s “clear and obvious” is another’s “hairline decision”. Only this weekend, Frank Lampard was understandably complaining that a review that took over three minutes could hardly be considered “clear and obvious”.

But equally, had the penalty decision been for his team at the other end if the pitch, might he not have sagely nodded about the wisdom of “getting it right, however long it takes?” That’s not unique to Lampard of course, for every manager, every player, every fan, every club sees every incident from its own perspective, but it explains why every decision is now going to VAR because if it doesn’t and it’s proved incorrect on the 34th viewing, there’ll be outrage of a different kind.

This is the world we’ve created for ourselves, one where, to quote the old joke about a couple lost in the country, asking for directions are told, “No, you can’t get there from here”. That’s where we all live now and football is no exception.

Confusion Reigns

We live in the age of absolutism, whatever the area of life you’re talking about. Compromise, shades of grey, that’s all so passé. Now we must have the one real truth, if you’re not with us you’re against us, and tell me how good that is in solving problems in politics, business or sport?

So football, slave to the God of money, must play the new game, it must iron out imperfections – which are where most of the game’s charm is held – and replace it instead with geometry. Thus, we get the absurd situation where a Liverpool goal can be ruled out because Firmino’s armpit is offside – unless he is suffering from a particularly virulent form of body odour, it’s hard to see how that either gave him an advantage or was clear and obvious.

Roberto Firmino scores a goal
Liverpools Roberto Firmino scores a goal before it is disallowed by VAR during the Premiership match at Villa Park Birmingham

Of course, if referees and their assistants are being required to make such millimetre perfect judgements, on the run, while the game is moving at accelerated speed, you don’t want three officials, you want Superman. And there’s only one of him – and there are hardly any phone boxes left for him to change in either. Which leaves us in a position where we have to ask just what is the offside rule now? Is it a formulation demanding perfection or is it the more realistic version we used to have where the attacker was given the benefit of the doubt? And let’s not even begin talking about what constitutes handball these days or we’ll be here until cup final day.

Embrace The Folly

But perhaps these are thoughts from a former age. Perhaps we should embrace the new and go the whole hog. Let’s equip every player with a string of 360 degree GoPro cameras so that we can have each of the tracked individually and see exactly what they do and have done to them.

Even then though, that doesn’t deal with the tricky business of intent, be it in perpetrating a foul or taking a dive in the box. In which case, possibly we could employ psychologists who could rush on to the pitch and question defenders as to whether they really felt they could reach the ball or knew the tackle was going to be late but were forced to go through it to try and impress their dad in the stands because of deep seated childhood issues of neglect. Maybe we could also bring in lie detector tests to measure a player’s sincerity when he falls over in the penalty area.

And just to add to the theatre of it all, let’s communicate the result of the VAR deliberations to the crowd via a tweet from Donald Trump or via the medium of interpretive dance, courtesy of Mark Zuckerberg.

Or we could just grow up, accept that the world isn’t perfect and that referees make mistakes, the same way centre-forwards miss open goals and goalkeepers let the ball squirm through their hands from time to time. At least we’d get out of the ground quicker.

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