Soon to enter its third season, it looks like VAR is sadly here to stay.
For many, this is bad news across England, as a Guardian study claims that only 26% of those fans wanted VAR to remain. It would also be interesting to see what percentage of those fans support the likes of the ‘big six’ who seem to get more favourable decisions than others, with Manchester United being the real standouts and beneficiaries of VAR.
For Newcastle fans though, it seems that there’s been a number of dodgy decisions against Newcastle since its inception. Of course, fans up and down the country will naturally say it’s gone against their club – but as mentioned if last season showed us anything, it’s that generally the big six are usually helped out by the technology.
In terms of overturned decisions and points given and taken, it turns out that last season Newcastle ended up 2 points worse off than if VAR didn’t exist. Whilst this isn’t the end of the world, imagine if it meant the difference between relegation or survival? Even if it meant the difference between 12th place or 13th, you’re talking over one million pounds due to VAR.
However, it doesn’t stop there. This is only taking into account the negatives of VAR on face value. That is, supposing and assuming that VAR is completely neutral in the first place. Of course, looking at Man Utd getting a historic amount of penalties in a season with VAR involved seems like a big coincidence. This means that the negative 2 points are probably even bigger when looking at the bias that seems to go hand in hand with VAR.
Having said this, there is some positive news for Newcastle fans. Firstly, the VAR line is getting widened next season. This means even bias refereeing will be lessened as a result. The VAR lines are typically used for off-side, which can sometimes create the slimmest of margins and create offside calls out of hands, toes, or even fingers. Due to a thicker line, this should in theory eliminate these tiny margins and make the less controversial decisions as a result. In short, the thicker the line, the less likely a finger will be over the line, which makes the life of the referee a little easier.
There is also more positive news on the back of the Euros. Overall, the Euros have been a success and it’s quite clear that VAR is used differently on the continent. For the most part, it is used for clear and obvious calls, unlike the Premier League’s interpretation that almost everything is clear and obvious. The benefit of this is that there’s less controversy, less interpretation from referees and the game flows nicer as a result. Apparently, this is actually how it’s used in most countries and it turns out that England is quite isolated in its interpretations of using VAR. This shows that the Premier League is not bigger than foreign leagues, even if its financiers believe so.
Interestingly, VAR was actually first used in the 2018 Russia World Cup and was not controversial whatsoever. Here, refs wore special watches that pinged data onto their wrist whilst the game took place. Can anyone remember any controversies during this tournament? Not really…which is a testament that football and VAR can co-exist, if the technology is interpreted correctly.
You could claim that the Premier League VAR mess is down to a few key factors. Firstly, it could be because there is a systematic bias in the English game. Whilst you’ll never hear mainstream pundits claim this, we’ve all known this for years and even going back to the ‘Fergie time’ days, it’s been clear. Instead of neutral playing ground, if anything VAR has helped skew decisions in the favour of the Premier League elite. Now, the invisible man in the VAR control room cannot be blamed and with certain parts of the media on board, little is ever said or done.
Secondly, it could be a far less sinister plot. It could simply be that English referees simply aren’t that good and a good few of them are prima-donnas too. In recent times, the likes of Mike Riley springs to mind, who seems to love being at the centre of attention and enjoys making controversial moments.
Regardless, the Premier League has promised an overhaul in the summer which comes as good news. This isn’t just good news for Mags, it’s also good news for most of the football league and will also help newly promoted, smaller clubs be able to cope with the Premier League. This is, hoping that these promises are actually taken on board and stay in place. Hopefully, just hopefully VAR can be used for the good of the game and not a tool to cause misery amongst fans.