Label volunteer writer Michael Haddad discusses the damaging effects of the ‘Virtual Assistant Referee’ since it’s introduction to professional football.

Football has always been known for its passion, controversy and unpredictability. Perhaps these are the reasons why billions of fans all over the world fell in love with the beautiful game. The pondering question is whether the introduction of this ‘Virtual Assistant Referee’ is what the game has needed for a greater sense of objectivity and fairness, or has it just created an even greater debate that’s taking away from the game itself?

Introduction of the Technology

When VAR was introduced for the first time during the 2017 Confederations Cup, many thought this was a step in the right direction to minimise inconsistencies that clouded many unforgettable nights such as the 2008 Champions League Semi Final between Chelsea and Barcelona and Thierry Henry’s infamous handball in the World Cup qualification playoffs between France and Ireland. In reality, VAR seems to have created more problems than it could solve. Last season’s Premier League was riddled with questions marks regarding whether VAR is the correct step for the Premier League with over 34 goals disallowed for offside alone, some of which for incredibly tight margins (including Firimino’s being offside by a hairs length against Aston Villa). This season is no different, with the new handball rule causing quite the stir in the early stages. After only 26 games, 20 penalties had been awarded and if penalties are awarded at that rate for the rest of the season an astounding 292 penalties would be awarded shattering the previous record of 106 held by the 2009/10 and 2016/17 season. The centre of controversy this season has been the implementation of the new handball rule which has resulted in 6 penalties before the start of October all of which have been the topic of much debate.

How Has VAR Shaped the Premier League Today?

After only 5 matchdays VAR has already had a major role in shaping this year’s Premier League table. In one of the strangest events in Premier League history, Manchester United were awarded a penalty after the full time whistle due to VAR spotting a handball from Brighton’s Neal Maupay, which Bruno Fernandes (unsurprisingly) converted, meaning United snatched their first 3 points of the season.

Goodison Park was the centre of huge deliberation after multiple major decisions were made by VAR official David Coote during the Merseyside Derby. Firstly, a penalty shout was (rightfully) deemed offside however, Jordan Pickford was lucky to stay on the pitch after a crunching tackle on Virgil Van Dijk meant the 6-foot-4 Dutch centre back had to be replaced early in the first half. Furthermore, Jordan Henderson’s second half stoppage time winner was outrageously ruled out as Sadio Mane was deemed to be offside by literal millimetres in the build-up.

Finally, the only team still to hold a 100% record this season, Aston Villa, can count themselves very lucky to even be competing in the Premier League this season as both VAR and goal-line technology missed a goal scored by Sheffield United during their encounter on the 17th of June, which would have seen Villa face the drop instead of Bournemouth.

VAR: Total Failure or Simply Misused?

Since its inception, the debate around the usefulness of VAR has been ever-present and has dominated discussions during Sky Sports ‘Monday Night Football’ as well as on BT Sports and other sports broadcasting channels around the world. Sky Sports’ Jaime Carragher has dubbed VAR dubbing it ‘an absolute disgrace’ after Newcastle were awarded a late penalty for a controversial Eric Dier handball against Tottenham on the 27th of September.

Carragher is not the only pundit to speak out against VAR with many all over the world calling for its removal as its decisions are removing the human aspect of the game with Graham Le Saux arguing that VAR has failed to remove the large inconsistencies of the game. However, not all opinions toward VAR have been negative. Former referee Mark Clattenburg has maintained that VAR is the right step for football however, its implementation needs to be altered. For example, after the Merseyside Derby, Clattenburg contended that Sadio Mane was offside however, stated that this highlighted the need for a change in the offside rule in order to compensate for the exact measurements used by VAR.

Football is about beautiful build up play, wonderful goals and unparalleled passion and atmosphere and as a football fan the universal feeling of fear once our teams scores in dread that it might be ruled out due to the slightest of measures is something that is killing the game we love, nevertheless, scapegoating VAR is not the answer. Officials need to understand that footballers are human and not robots and that benefit of the doubt should be given whenever necessary, removing cavilling from decisions that could cost a team and its fans everything.

Edited by Lois George – Sports Editor

Header by Christos Alamaniotis – Assistant Head of Design


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