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Is VAR the problem or the tool hiding the Problem?



Is VAR the problem or the tool hiding the Problem?

Video Assistant Referee or VAR for short, are three words and 3-lettered abbreviations that would have premier league fans swearing in front of their screens on any given match day. Ever since its introduction, saying a general consensus of premier league fans have been pleased with its outcome would be stretching the political narrative of staying ‘neutral’ on divisive matters.

It hasn’t just moved from one controversy to another, but has forced premier league clubs in the 2023/24 to step into the public light and release statements to question the PGMOL and their stance to certain calls.

It all started at the very beginning of the 2023/24 premier league season, specifically the season opener between Manchester United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The game saw the midlands side denied what many believed was a clear and obvious decision against United goalie Andre Onana.

Usually, when a season starts that way with controversy, it already paints a bad omen for the rest of the campaign. The games between Tottenham and Liverpool followed, Arsenal versus Liverpool, Arsenal versus Newcastle United at the Saint James’ Park, many decisions that went in favor of Manchester City and those that went against City’s neighbors Manchester United amongst many others, gave wave to theories that VAR was doing only one thing — ruining the English game.

Is VAR the problem or the tool hiding the Problem?

This led to questions and debates rising over the importance of VAR in football or the English game as premier league fans would say. According to them, the Video Assistant Referee does not assist the referees to better manage or referee the game, but adds to the ‘corruption’ and ‘incompetency’ of the match day officials.

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in its conception, solely came into the game to give referees a better view or reading of the game; a third eye of sorts in cases that involve offside calls, unruly on-pitch behaviors, handball situations and some other incidents that referees often times are oblivious to.

However, since the 2019 season, the Video Assistant Referee has failed to do this a couple of times in the premier league. It has either led to more controversies rising, or certain rules brought into questioning or a total ridicule of football.

Clear and obvious decisions go past the on-pitch referee and the Video Assistant Referee altogether. For instance, the famous premier league tie between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in North London that saw a myriad of decisions go against Liverpool like the Luis Diaz ‘offside’ call in which the PGMOL had to apologize for.

Speaking of apologies, the PGMOL gave premier league clubs a number of apologies in the current campaign than the number of VAR calls that actually went right.

From VAR standing as the solution to the problem, the Video Assistant Referee became the problem in the eyes of premier league fans.

However, what is interesting is that the complaints against VAR is mostly specific to premier league fans more than it is in other leagues in Europe or football competitions in general. The recent African Cup of Nations had a plethora of people, worthy of mentioning, Jose Mourinho praising the use of VAR in the AFCON tournament as opposed to what the Portuguese had said when he was still managing in the premier league.

The use of the Video Assistant Referee in the 2024 AFCON was well praised that fans and neutrals could not point at a controversial decision or call that went against the rules throughout the tournament. Was it magic? Was it a trick or did CAF do something right? It is the latter.

Is VAR the problem or the tool hiding the Problem?

The Confederation of African Football did one thing that actually salvaged the AFCON tournament from ridicule — bring in people that know what they are doing and are ready to point out whatever flawed decision the linesmen or the referee makes on the field. The Premier League has not done that.

Instead, VAR officials who made themselves popular for controversial decisions, get another chance to do the same in the next game and the next season. Thus, to put it plainly, the Video Assistant Referee technology is not the problem but merely a tool to back refereeing incompetency.

The Premier League now requests votes from clubs to decide on the next course of action; scrap it or keep it? But scrapping the technology does not scrap refereeing incompetency does it?