Regardless of your opinion on VAR; the 3rd round of the 2017/18 FA Cup has changed English football forever, and the tie between Leicester City and Fleetwood Town will go down in history as the first time the VAR system was successfully and beneficially used. However, the tie between Chelsea and Norwich only 24 hours later will go down as the first time the system was incorrectly used, or not used when it should have been for that matter.
This comes after Leicester forward Kelechi Iheanacho had his second goal ruled offside, only to be deemed legal, and awarded through use of the VAR system. Then the following day Chelsea were denied several penalties, some clear cut, some debatable, and while the VAR system reviewed some of these penalty claims and did not change the outcome, they also ignored other claims when they could well of been given.
So we are just a week into VAR history and it seemed like Tuesday the 16th January 2018 looked like a monumental, game-changing day for British football, only to have those seemingly positive changes widely debated and partially diminished on the 17th. So what is VAR? What does it do? Do we need it? Well, to ignite the argument – these two incidents have proved we need something.
What is VAR?
VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee, and its job is to help analysis and conclude decisions made by the head referee through the use of their playback video footage and a headset for communication with the referee. The VAR system is not currently part of the laws of the game, but is allowed to be used after a meeting in June 2016 involving the International Football Association Board approved the use of video referees, so its fair to say, regardless of its already proven ability in the FA Cup, we are still in a trial and error phase.
Now it’s important to remember that VAR is only used for four decisions:
• Goals and whether or not there was a violation in the build up
• Penalties decisions
• Mistaken identity in awarding a yellow or red card
• Straight red card decisions (second yellow cards will not be considered for review)
Anything else is debated on the pitch and awarded there and then, end of. So to summarise; the VAR system is essentially a fifth assistant with eyes everywhere, who has the chance to correctly change only four different types of refereeing decisions. But there are a lot of questions that come with that, for example; why are the powers that be only allowed to review straight red cards and not second yellows? After all, it’s the same concept – the player leaves the pitch for a violation. And what happens when the linesman’s flag goes up, but it looks close, so play continues, and the team goes onto score? Does the head referee allow advantage for a certain amount of time? Or wait till the ball goes out of play and then review the decision? It’s these questions that are keeping some football fans on the fence concerning VAR, but what we can all agree on is that we all want the correct decisions to be made, and VAR gives us that opportunity.
Pros and cons of VAR
Now, a simple way to look at this is the situation that has inevitably proved that VAR can be useful – Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal against Fleetwood Town in the FA Cup. It was the first time VAR ever came into use in English football, and after the linesman raised his flag from a Riyad Mahrez pass, the Nigerian netted seconds after. It was at this point history was made and approximately 42 seconds after the ball hit the net, Iheanacho was proved to be onside by no more than a few inches, and the goal was given, which, without VAR would never have been awarded. Historic. Exactly what the doctor ordered.
But its not always appropriately used, as proved a day later in the FA Cup replay where Chelsea took on Norwich City. Early in the game Chelsea player Pedro was booked for diving – so it was immediately reviewed by VAR, and after review the panel agreed with the referee, and rightfully so, as it was a blatant dive, so no changes were made. Wonderful – this is exactly why we wanted VAR, perfect, right? Not quite. In extra time Chelsea forward Willian was brought down in the penalty area by Norwich defender Ivo Pinto, only for the Chelsea man to receive a yellow card for simulation. So, as we are in 2018 we go to VAR; which showed clear contact from Pinto, and although Willian went down easy, it looked like a penalty. Alan Shearer in the BBC studio called it a “shambles”, and his colleagues Gary Linekar, Dion Dublin and Gianfranco Zola agreed, but VAR disagreed and did not overrule the decision of referee Graham Scott.
So should VAR be available for officials in English football?
So within two days VAR has been called into question for two separate reasons, and how it faired has not got us any further to conclusion from before it was brought in, as both the arguments of ‘for’ and ‘against’ have been justified by each of these two circumstances. One decision was overruled by the VAR panel and a goal was rightfully awarded, the other was reviewed by the VAR panel and was not overruled when many believe it should have been. Now in truth, this isn’t directly VAR’s fault, that’s just the way football is, as this sport is constantly debated and opinionated; and there is one thing VAR will never change – opinions. Whatever technology is brought in, there will always be disagreements and opinions, and VAR will settle some of these with the truth, but some occasions will also create unnecessary situations that will cause more disputes and tension. As mentioned, this is the trial and error phase, and we’ve already seen decisions correctly turned around, so perhaps the only way we are going to see better use of the VAR is more use of the VAR through trial and error.
It seems the VAR system is more beneficial than not having it at all, as there isn’t much of a reason to not have it if its available. It’s a case of ‘we may as well, what have we got to lose?’, and right now, English football is just at the start of this period, so it will get easier to integrate into games over time. Aspects of the system will change once the FA find the correct methods, but the concept wont – and it’s the concept of finding the correct, legal decision is why we may need VAR in football.
It took a lot longer than it should of for goal-line technology to be available, despite many cries for its introduction. But in 2014, goal-line technology has proved vital and the goal-line decisions have been reinvented and finally concluded in the correct manner, so perhaps VAR might give football the same with what it attempts to prevent. Bottom line is; VAR is here to stay it seems, and we are most likely going to see the rule book be updated to accompany the VAR system – but this is perhaps where it is going wrong. Is this one step to far before we change the free-flowing game entirely? Whatever your beliefs, this seems a necessary edition to our game in some capacity to ensure correct decisions are made, and there is no doubt VAR has now changed English football forever.
After all, Rugby and Cricket have used this system for years with great success.