In its current form, VAR will not just kill the joy of football but it risks destroying the game itself.
Not a Premier League weekend goes by without anti-VAR chants from the stands amid agonising delays over prolonged reviews that leave spectators in the dark ahead of decisions that leave you wondering if there is much point in watching any more.
Yes, it is a new phenomenon. Yes, it needs time to bed in and improve. But it doesn’t seem to be getting better. It is getting worse.
In its current form, VAR will not just kill the joy of football but it risks destroying the game itself
Jonathan Moss, the VAR for Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Sheffield United, spent nearly four minutes deciding that John Lundstram’s big toenail was offside at the point at which they think — but cannot know for certain — the ball was played. Had he been wearing a shoe size smaller, he would probably have been level.
This is not football. This is not what makes the Premier League the most watched in the world.
We do not want to scrap VAR. Not yet. The technology is there to do good and, in patches, the new system has helped right some obvious wrongs.
If it is implemented better, using common sense more often than the microscope, there is no reason why VAR cannot improve the game, rather than kill it.
Jonathan Moss spent nearly four minutes deciding whether John Lundstram had been offside
So, Sportsmail has put together a four-point plan to save VAR.
Referees must make use of the pitch-side monitor for key decisions. Not one on-field Premier League official has consulted it this season. Scrape the dust off, give the screen a wipe and look at it.
We admire PGMOL’s aim to use monitors as sparingly as possible to maintain the much-loved ‘pace and intensity of the Premier League’. But they might avoid the farcical scenes at the Women’s World Cup this summer.
The sight of players wandering around while the referee stands with his finger to his ear for three minutes does little for the pace and intensity of the game.
UEFA refs chief Roberto Rosetti told The Mail on Sunday he wants his referees in European competition to be ‘at the centre of the decision-making process – not the VAR’. To achieve that, the referee needs to see a move with his own eyes and not take another’s word for it.
Four-point plan for a better VAR
VAR, the review system that was sold as a corrective force for good, has created more problems than it has solved after a bitter Premier League baptism. Three months into the scheme and even many supporters of the idea originally have turned against VAR following a series of high-profile controversies.
Whether we like it or not VAR’s going nowhere, so here is Mail on Sunday Sport‘s four-point plan to make it fit for purpose.
1. ALLOW REFEREES TO LOOK AT PITCHSIDE MONITORS
Referee chiefs wanted pitchside monitors used sparingly but not a single use of the equipment in three months is stretching that. FIFA encourage it and there have been many occasions where, on subjective matters, the on-field referee should have had the final say on a decision.
2. IMPROVE COMMUNICATION WITH FANS AND BE MORE TRANSPARENT
VAR replays are not being shown on big screens inside the ground until after a decision is taken, leaving fans often completely in the dark as to what’s going on. International football chiefs wanted to ensure undue pressure doesn’t get exerted on officials.
3. BROADCAST THE DISCUSSION BETWEEN THE VAR AND ON-FIELD REFEREE
Rugby successfully broadcasts conversations between referees and TMOs over contentious calls in that sport, so why can’t the same narrative be heard in the murky world of VAR? Because again it’s down to IFAB, football’s lawmakers, who have said it can’t happen.
4. DON’T OVERRULE AN OFFSIDE DECISION UNLESS IT’S A CLEAR AND OBVIOUS ERROR
You’re either offside or you’re not, according to VAR’s supporters. Except that The Mail on Sunday experts have already revealed there is the slightest margin for error with the technology.
Sheffield United were the latest victims yesterday having a goal ruled out at Spurs for an almost imperceptible offside call. In those situations just leave it to the officials.
The Premier League seems to be ignoring its own protocols, which say monitors would be used for off-the-ball incidents the referee has missed or when what they are told has happened does not tally with what he thinks he has seen. Isn’t that what happens every time a penalty or red card is overturned?
Chairmen are understood to be pushing for more use of the monitors at a meeting of Premier League clubs this week.
VAR cannot judge offsides as it does now. It cannot take 3min 47sec to draw tiny lines on players to determine that they are on the wrong side by millimetres.
Especially when the technology does not allow it. The Mail on Sunday showed earlier this season that the frame-rates of the VAR cameras are insufficient to make offside calls by millimetres with any certainty.
Rosetti also said he only wants offsides to be overturned if they are clear.
We propose a ‘linesman’s call’. The maths tells us that any situation that shows an attacker offside by 15cm or less is a reasonable enough grey area for the linesman’s decision to be final.
VAR is unable to judge offsides as it does now and a ‘linesman’s call’ may improve this issue
Critics may say this merely shifts where you put the magnifying glass but, right now, seeing goals chalked off by the length of armpit hairs does not feel right.
But it would give power back to the linesmen who, under the current system, are rendered almost redundant.
Then, improve communication with the fans inside the stadium, who currently have no idea what is going on.
Communication extends beyond that, too. Be more open with supporters. Acknowledge decisions that are incorrect, don’t just whisper them to unfortunate Premier League clubs, as happened last week when Everton were quietly informed that Michael Keane should not have been penalised for accidentally standing on Aaron Connolly’s foot.
There is still hope and time for VAR to work but authorities must act now to save the game
Broadcast the discussion between the VAR and the referee. At present, such a move is forbidden by football’s lawmakers IFAB. Two months ago they said they had no plans to change, but they are holding another meeting in early December. If VAR is to succeed, they must grasp the netttle.
We considered time limits on reviews, as in American Football, and giving each manager a certain number of challenges, as in cricket. These both feel a step too far at present. The system should be able to come to the correct decisions, independently of manaagers asking for it, which would turn VAR into a tactic, rather than a pursuit of natural justice.
There is still hope. There is still time. But the authorities have to act now if they are to save the game.