Sunday’s match between Liverpool and Wolves continued a recent Premier League trend: scrupulous Video Assistant Referee (VAR) decisions that prompted passionate debate throughout football and its fan base.
Referee Anthony Taylor initially disallowed Sadio Mane’s winning goal for handball by Adam Lallana in the build-up but VAR ruled that the England international had brought down the ball with his shoulder and let the goal stand.
In first-half stoppage time, Pedro Neto thought he had equalised when he swept in Jonny’s cross. However, VAR stepped in once again to disallow the goal for a marginal offside decision – to the frustration of the Wolves players and staff, with boss Nuno Espirito Santo booked for his indiscretion.
Virgil Van Dijk also appeared to handle the ball in the build-up to the winner, with Wolves’ Conor Coady claiming referee Taylor told him that the incident was too far back in the move to be considered despite the defender playing a long pass to Lallana for the goal.
Here we look at a few things that may help take the heat out of a white-hot issue.
Change the offside rule
Surely the most obvious solution. For the problem in those incredibly tight offside calls is not VAR, but the offside rule. A player’s armpit should never be the determining factor in judging if they have strayed offside, as has been the case with Tottenham Hotspur, Norwich City, Liverpool, Wolves, Sheffield United this season.
Forgo “offside is offside” and apply only when the error is “clear and obvious” – as VAR was originally intended to do. If there’s millimetres in it, favour the attacker. Decide on, say, feet being the only determinant. It would cut down drastically the decision-making time.
Allow the VAR discussion to be heard
One of the most irritating aspects of VAR has been the confusion that surrounds each decision-making process. Too many times, the error is neither clear nor obvious, leaving those in the stadium and watching on television with little idea as to what’s going on. Granted, using the big screens at grounds to inform fans why VAR is being consulted has become a welcome revision, but why not allow TV viewers to hear the conversation between the referee and the VAR? Rugby and cricket employ a similar approach, and for the most part it works incredibly well.
Give the refs the final decision
Often this season, the referee has been overruled by VAR. In theory, the reason for that is understandable: eradicate the need for the official to consult the screen by the touchline and thus cut down time taken to make the decision.
However, it has meant the referee has to lean on VAR, which takes the final call out of his hands. He is therefore undermined. Instead allow the referee to watch replays of the particular incident; let them take back control. OK, it won’t necessarily speed up the process, but at least the referee has what he always should have: the decisive say.
Limit teams to number of reviews per game
At the moment, matches are dominated by contentious calls. Every incident, it seems, gets referred to VAR. Why not restrict the amount of times a team can have a decision reviewed? Entrust the managers with requesting an incident be checked by VAR. That could apply to goals, red cards and penalty decisions. While not foolproof, it would take some of the pressure off the referee and VAR, while it would encourage the game to flow better than it does currently. And, no doubt, add to the drama – if additional tension is what we need.