Premier League clubs to vote on removing VAR - but is it the right call?

If at least 14 of the 20 clubs vote in favour, VAR can be removed from next season

VAR can improve its relationship with supporters by showing reviews and also allowing communication between officials to be heard. Getty
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Premier League clubs will vote next month on whether to scrap the use of video review – or VAR – for refereeing decisions next season, a motion that, if it passes, will bring joy to fans, save managers a fortune in fines and make Stockley Park a white elephant.

The resolution was submitted by Premier League side Wolves, a club who feel they have had more than their fair share of VAR decisions go against them, to trigger a vote at the league’s annual general meeting on June 6. If at least 14 of the 20 clubs vote in favour, VAR can be removed.

Wolves said the use of VAR has “led to numerous unintended negative consequences", damages the relationship with fans and undermines "the value of the Premier League brand".

The club said it was time for a "constructive and critical debate” on VAR's future after five years of the technology.

Few would argue with any of those points, and the sign of any healthy organisation is its members having a voice in how it is run. It's hard to imagine there will be many dissenters against the motion at the June 6 AGM, but is scrapping the technology the answer?

Football was decades behind rugby and cricket in introducing technology to assist match officials and (in theory) reduce the number of bad calls during games. There has never been pushback against it in those sports, so why is it so febrile in football? Why does rugby and cricket get it right and football get it so wrong?

The major bones of contention are the length of time to make a decision, lack of communication and the interpretations of the rules.

There are plenty of examples to choose from but I'll pick out the one that caused the biggest row between me and my friends on WhatsApp. Coventry City were denied a match-winning goal in their FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United when Haji Wright was judged offside before crossing for Victory Torp to slot home.

It wasn't only Coventry fans who agonised over the review. You can count in the millions the number of rival supporters who would have loved to see a second-tier side reach the final and dump the mighty Manchester United out.

The review took several minutes. It was marginal but Wright was offside. Cue outright indignation, so what if Wright's toenail was offside? United can spend millions on players, a week's wages of Coventry's entire squad is £50,000 less than Bruno Fernandes'. Was it clear and obvious?

All goals are checked by VAR, so the final point is mute. What seems incomprehensible for some to consider is that it doesn't matter if it's by a millimetre or a mile, Wright was offside, and the right call was made. There are no allowances of individual players or teams. If the shoe was on the other foot – if United had scored in the final seconds knocking Coventry out – would there have been the same reaction? Would supporters be leaping to United's defence? Of course not. Who doesn't love a plucky underdog beating a giant?

Visuals play a key role. What we see on our screens during a VAR is not what fans see in the stadium. That sense of being left in the dark while officials analyse frame-by-frame turns otherwise rational fans into rabid dogs when they are made to wait several minutes for a decision. It seems an easy fix: what we see at home, we should see at the ground. Hearing the communication between the on-field officials and video referee would also go a long way.

It could be argued the technology isn't at fault at all and the problem lies with those operating it. There are plenty of examples I could mention but again focus on one. Luis Diaz's disallowed goal in Liverpool's 2-1 defeat to Tottenham last September wasn't so much comical as criminal. The PGMOL, the body responsible for referees in England, blamed "significant human error" as the reason Diaz's goal was not allowed to stand despite clearly being onside.

The goal couldn't be revisited because the game had restarted. Again, this seems an easy fix. We all make mistakes and an error did occur. The decision could easily have been corrected by VAR communicating that with the on-field referee.

No one is arguing VAR is perfect. And this is not a protest vote against a protest vote, just simply an examination of why making better use of the technology instead of scraping it would be a better cause of action.

Abolishing VAR will not mean fewer mistakes and less flash points. To the latter point, all it did was move the debate from post-match to in-match. In September 2019, a month after VAR was introduced to the Premier League, I wrote: "the idea of arguing over a decision that is still fundamentally decided by man ... is nothing new.

"Football has always generated flash points, the basis for endless debates, burning injustices and the deep cut of emotional scars that will never quite heal. All VAR has done is provide a shiny new platform on which to air these grievances. Old men yelling at clouds has been replaced by young men screaming at an inanimate object as it projects "goal" or "no goal" in crystal clear HD on a giant screen."

Before its introduction, football was begging for a technological revolution. Maybe VAR 2.0 can succeed where its forerunner failed.

Published: May 16, 2024, 8:28 AM