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VARsical: How football could look at other sports to improve its controversial review system

Let’s face it, back in 2018/19 we were all calling for a review system in the Premier League but since its inception into the highest level of English football in the 2019/20 season, controversy has followed VAR around like a bad smell. 

The constant pauses in play, the deflation in the stands when the VAR check comes up on the screen and the over-analysis of any alleged foul or offside call has frustrated supporters in recent times. 

Pundits have even rejoiced when televised FA Cup ties are at EFL grounds and don’t have the facilities to have VAR, the whole Carabao Cup had no VAR up until the final and you can’t even recall whether a decision that went against your side as it wasn’t dwelled on by the Sky Sports punditry team for half an hour post-match. 

Then as soon as the final comes along, we see that controversial intervention from VAR for Virgil Van Dijk’s first header, that brings uproar into the game and questions about a lack of consistency, especially given that merely days later Nottingham Forest were claiming that the same thing happened in their FA Cup tie with Man United and it was simply waved away. 

There’s been a catalogue of errors by VAR this season, most notably in the Tottenham vs Liverpool match and we’ve been taking note of other sports’ review systems as well as VAR in other countries, with ideas of how changes could be implemented.

The captain’s review

For those cricket fans out there, the vision of a captain sending a decision to DRS is one that is ingrained in the brain.

DRS does have a significant presence in cricket but it certainly doesn’t attract the scrutiny that VAR does in football, however there is much more subjectivity in the rules of football than there is in cricket.

In a Test match a team gets three reviews and if they use them all they’re all gone and even if you think a wrong decision has been made by the umpire, you just continue. 

There have been plenty of arguments this year that VAR is sometimes just looking for a reason to disallow a goal, see Anthony Gordon’s goal for Newcastle against Arsenal earlier in the season. 

So if football was to replicate cricket and give the captain 10 seconds to decide whether they want a VAR review and only allow them one review per game, would that solve the conundrum on VAR? Probably not, but it would certainly limit the influence VAR has on a game and allow the referee to have full control of the game.

Like cricket, they should take the review off the team if they fail to overturn a decision and if it’s successful you retain it. 

That should hopefully inject some jeopardy into a captain’s decision to send something to VAR and hopefully it would mean that more or less VAR is there for clear and obvious mistakes, not 50/50 decisions.

VAR to be in the stadium

The fact that the VAR can be at times nearly 300 miles away from the referee is baffling, with all VARs based at Stockley Park you have more scope to have miscommunication and you also don’t see the event in real time. 

More often than not the footage that VAR sees is slowed down and rocked-and-rolled for what seems like thousands of times, but sometimes in slow motion, the video makes things look worse than it actually is. 

Having the VAR present in the stadium would give them two viewpoints, a referee’s view in real time and the slow motion replays allowing a speedier decision, especially with a clear error. 

Seeing the VAR decision played out on the big screen 

For so much of the time supporters are an afterthought in modern day football, but this change would stop the bewildered looks in the stand when the announcer says there’s a VAR review and allow them to have full knowledge of what’s going on, especially the poor away fans at Newcastle’s St James’ Park who see the players as mere dots. 

Showing footage on the big screen and hearing the VAR decision would make it better for those fans who have to wait until after the match to see replays of a controversial red card or a soft penalty decision. 

It would mean that we know the reasoning of their decision as well as getting an insight into the decision making process, which we never have gotten in real time and we only ever hear VAR conversations if there’s pressure put on the PGMOL, for example after Mikel Arteta slammed officials post-match in Newcastle.

To have more communication from VAR needs to be the norm, as when you hear the decision making process in Cricket or Rugby Union, you understand the logic behind it unless it’s a controversial one, see Scotland vs France in the Six Nations. 

Semi-automated offside technology

Something which you will have seen in this season’s Champions League is the offside technology, which has seen the ditching of the lines for something much quicker and less likely to produce errors. 

However the Premier League is a step behind due to their ball contract with Nike and the American sports giants having not tested their balls with the chip that has been used to track the offside decisions in European football and at the 2022 World Cup. 

Nike’s contract does expire in 2025 and Puma, who are the ball manufacturer for the SOAT-using Serie A with, are set to take over, so SOAT could be on its way to the Premier League soon. 

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