Every level headed fan would’ve accepted that VAR would have a few teething problems when it was first introduced, but it was accepted that we were moving towards a place where the majority of mistakes were rectified immediately and results would be fairer.
We are still seeing a situation where the same level of mistakes are being made, but the fallout is so much worse because we’ve moved on to a new level of human error.
Previously we would see referees struggle to see or process real life events and that can happen, but now it’s either a case of those in charge being scared of/resisting technology or a new layer of incompetence.
READ MORE: Fixing VAR in the Premier League – Former ref Keith Hackett on specialised roles and lessons to be learned from the NFL
Almost every single employee will have experienced some form of technology which threatens how you do your job, so it’s natural to feel inadequate and fight it, but in footballing terms that attitude has led to the Premier League becoming a laughing stock.
Some notable examples this season include missing an obvious red card for Jordan Pickford in the Merseyside Derby, Newcastle escaping with a point against Spurs thanks to a farcical handball decision and there was controversy between Man United and Chelsea last weekend too.
Unfortunately those examples only scratch the surface from this season alone, and it’s quite clearly time for some change.
Fortunately it’s not like the Premier League needs to come up with a whole new plan themselves, it’s really just a case of dropping the arrogance and implementing methods which have a lot of success elsewhere.
Former Premier League ref and PGMOL boss Keith Hackett spoke to Caught Offside about the events so far this season, and he wants to see some changes implemented as soon as possible.
He cites recent examples from FIFA and MLS about how things can be implemented, and it’s easy to see how this will lead to both improvements and consistency:
“After another weekend dominated by discussion over the poor application of VAR, something needs to change.”
“When VAR was operated at the last World Cup, it was evident that it would be an aid towards reducing error, while it also gave the match officials a chance to review their decisions on the pitch-side monitor and rectify any errors.”
“FIFA decided to employ a specialist team of VAR operators alongside assistant VAR’s. They all went through extensive training, and the success of the system gave FIFA the confidence to to introduce it into competitions around the world.”
The Premier League currently rotates officiating teams through various roles so they will rotate between VAR duties and an on-field role, but that makes it impossible for any specialist abilities to be developed and nobody really wants to over-rule their colleagues.
Hackett went on to describe how things were set up in MLS, and it was a former Premier League ref who helped it to become a success.
“The group of officials who look after MLS immediately launched VAR with the help of Howard Webb and Greg Barkley managing its launch into the competition.”
“Pre-match videos were shown on the big screen to educate the fans how it would be operated, while Webb visited with the individual clubs and regularly faced the media to explain how it would work.”
“They didn’t use the offside lines and the big screens told the fans what was happening.”
He then went on to detail how PGMOL decided to approach implementing VAR in the Premier League, and it’s easy to see why we are so far behind.
“PGMOL are responsible for providing the referees in the English professional game decided not to introduce the system. They eventually changed their mind a year later, but they have failed to operate VAR to the level we see in other leagues or the Champions League.”
“This is down to the PGMOL management team headed by Managing Director Mike Riley and VAR specialist Neil Swarbrick. They must accept the responsibility for the chaos that exists.”
“Every week we see errors of a magnitude that we wouldn’t expect to see even if VAR didn’t exist. Refs and VAR officials are clearly confused and lacking in positive teamwork and communication skills to deliver greater accuracy.”
“PGMOL appear to be accepting the falling standard of officiating in this country where they were once seen as world leaders. If there isn’t going to be a radical change of PGMOL management, then they need to go back to the classroom and make changes.”
Hackett went on to give you a few ideas to help improve matters in the Premier League, and these would fix a lot of the issues that we see every weekend:
“Drop the offside lines – they are a disaster. Simply agree that you will agree a system which gives the benefit of the doubt on offsides to the forwards.”
“Introduce a team of officials on every game that includes VAR, and ensure that you make the team accountable for errors on each game”
“The more radical approach would be to stop using active officials for the VAR roles. Get a group of referees out of retirement, retrain them and get them in operation before Christmas.”
“It’s either time for change or for PGMOL to drop the system because you are unable to operate it to the benefit of the game.”
Although he describes that final suggestion as radical, it actually looks like it could make sense for everyone involved.
Referees usually have to retire due to age because the fitness demands are too much, but they have so much knowledge and experience which is simply lost. Retraining them as VAR officials would see those skills being used to improve things.
Additionally, it’s not like we currently see an abundance of top level referees in this country, so it makes no sense to confine them to VAR duties when they would be better placed on the pitch.
Almost every other top level sport has implemented technology to improve the sport – Cricket, Tennis, Rugby and American Football have all improved their officiating standards due to it, so the Premier League really doesn’t have any excuse.
It might be a humbling experience for those in charge to admit that their methods didn’t work and big changes are needed, but it needs to be done.