Norwich City fans hold up a banner regarding VAR after the match.(Action Images via Reuters)
Norwich City fans hold up a banner regarding VAR after the match.(Action Images via Reuters)

Offside a sore point as VAR in full swing

Since its debut in the 2019-20 Premier League season, the VAR has been the crux of debate despite clubs voting unanimously in favour of introducing a system which was to constantly monitor matches and would be used only for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents”.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2020 11:04 PM IST

Jose Mourinho was fuming. The Tottenham Hotspur manager launched a scathing attack on the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) following his team’s New Year’s Day 0-1 defeat to Southampton.

“For me, the referees are not the referees,” said Mourinho. “The VAR should change their name because Video Assistant Referee is not true. It should be VR—Video Referee—because they are the referees. You see the refs on pitch and they not the refs, they are the assistants. The other guys in the office are the ones who make the big decisions.”

The Portuguese was annoyed over a potential foul on midfielder Dele Alli inside the box in the first half that was not assessed by VAR. “What I know is the Dele Alli penalty was a penalty and the VAR didn’t interfere,” he added. “The direction it is taking us in is really, really wrong.”

Mourinho’s anger is not unjustified.

Since its debut in the 2019-20 Premier League season, the VAR has been the crux of debate despite clubs voting unanimously in favour of introducing a system which was to constantly monitor matches and would be used only for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents”. More importantly, the final decision was to be “always taken by the on-field referee”.

But has the VAR adhered to the predetermined rules in the five months of the season so far?

Though it has its benefits, from coaches to fans, there have been several complaints about decision-making being arbitrary and inconsistent with the VAR being used for even the smallest margins and tightest calls for offside as if it were like a line-call challenge in tennis. To add to it, it has also interfered with the run of play with reviews and checks at the pitch-side monitor often halting the flow of the game and snatching the momentum of a team on attack.

“I believe it could be time to remove offside decisions from the VAR process,” former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg wrote in his Daily Mail column. “The excitement and spirit of the game is in danger of being damaged by the precise nature of the VAR technology when it comes to offside. So why not go back to assistant referees flagging for offside and we stick to their decision?”

Every club has had decisions affect them, one way or the other, which was not supposed to be the case when VAR was first written into the laws of the game with the philosophy of “minimal interference, maximum benefit”.

Fans were bewildered when VAR made another controversial decision on New Year’s Day by ruling out Jack Grealish’s goal against Burnley as Aston Villa striker Wesley Moraes’ heel was barely a millimetre in offside position. The goal was ruled out after a three-minute delay with VAR deliberating the offside. Similarly, more goals were ruled out earlier in the season due to these marginal offsides.

“What fresh hell is this?” tweeted former England player and pundit Gary Lineker. “I never, ever thought I’d say this, but I genuinely feel sorry for the referees’ assistants. They’re pretty darn good at what they do and are being dreadfully undermined. Remember, level is onside.” The creeping discrepancies have even led the lawmakers of the game to comment that VAR shouldn’t be “too forensic” when it comes to offsides.

“With VAR we see some things that are going in a direction that we may need to readjust,” International Football Association Board (IFAB), which determines the laws of football, general secretary Lukas Brud was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“If you spend multiple minutes trying to identify whether it is offside or not, then it’s not clear and obvious and the original decision should stand. What we really need to stress is that ‘clear and obvious’ applies to every single situation that is being reviewed by the VAR or the referee. In theory, 1mm offside is offside, but if a decision is taken that a player is not offside and the VAR is trying to identify through looking at five, six, seven, 10, 12 cameras whether or not it was offside, then the original decision should stand.”

Brud added that IFAB would reissue guidance on VAR’s use after its annual general meeting (AGM) in February.

In a review by ESPN, it was seen that 58 goals or incidents were affected by the VAR in Premier League matches held till December 31, 2019. In total, 58 decisions were overturned with 16 resulting in goals and 32 disallowed, 10 were given as penalties while two were overturned.

As many as 22 goals were ruled out for offside—including marginal ones—while six were awarded for incorrect offside, five goals were ruled out for handball while one allowed for a wrong handball decision.

And when it comes to cards, VAR resulted in red cards for two while one was overturned.

Teams like Norwich, Brighton, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Sheffield United all had their goals disallowed thanks to VAR last weekend with the latter suffering the most over the course of the season with seven decisions going against them. Technology is here to stay and would be unwise to change VAR rules right in the middle of the season and as former top flight referee Mark Halsey, who officiated in the Premier League from 1999 to 2013, told BBC that if VAR is “used correctly, it shouldn’t be a problem”

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