Week twelve of the Premier League was arguably the worst weekend yet for terrible calls from officials. The previous week was also pretty dire, with Wolves and Liverpool aggrieved at some pretty bad off side calls, costing them precious points.
However, if ever an incident nailed on the door, the need for VAR, it was Charlie Austin’s disallowed goal against Watford. His impassioned post-match interview caused some amusement, but in all seriousness, the Southampton striker was absolutely right in what he was saying.
Decisions as bad as that have no place in the top flight of English Football and can actually have a more lasting impact on a team’s fortunes. VAR is a practical way to solve the problem of ever increasing, poor decisions, however, it is by no means a miracle solution to the habitual errors of officials. Due to be introduced in the Premier League in the 19/20 campaign, it will no doubt make a huge impact on the game.
It’s not right for teams to cry foul play and managers to constantly blame referees for bad results. A team has to take responsibility on the pitch and not hide behind easy excuses and finger wagging at the man in black. That being said, there is such a thing as luck, and you do need a bit of it from time to time.
Referees are always going to make howlers, but these errors can prove very costly indeed. Ironically, Mark Hughes, the victim of arguably, the worst call so far this season, saw his former team suffer from poor officiating last season, leading to their ultimate demise from the Premier League.
According to a report by the ESPN and University of Bath, wrong decisions from officials cost Stoke City four points last season. To qualify, this study listed; incorrectly disallowed goals, wrong penalty decisions, goals after stoppage time had elapsed and incorrect red cards, as “wrong outcomes”. An alternative table for 17/18 was published with the points allocation adjusted to show how teams would have fared without the incorrect calls against them.
Four points sounds like small beer to some. But to Stoke, it was the difference between relegation and survival. Had they not been on the wrong end of those decisions they’d have stayed in the Premier League and not had to face the financial restrictions of The Championship. Not so small beer after all.
VAR has been frequently called for by a stream of top names associated with the game. Whenever a ref gets one wrong, it’s often the first thing people shout about these days.
However, the technology it is still far from an exact science and all of those hoping to see injustice wiped out may be left disappointed.
Other sports have shown that video refs have not entirely eradicated controversy. Rugby and cricket to name but two, are peppered with examples of officials turning to technology and still arriving at a dodgy decision. Plenty of controversy from officials still clouds both sports.
In addition, the biggest issue football will also have to circumnavigate, is interpretation. In decisions to send a man off or rule out a goal, it can sometimes boil down to whether a player is deemed to have gone in dangerously or interfered with play. Even with VAR, these calls are not clear cut.
You also have to contend with potentially long stoppages in the game. Video footage will need to be analysed as a decision is ultimately verified or overruled. At the moment, the median time for this decision making is 60 seconds, which is not horrendous, but if it can go over, fans risk being left bemused and frustrated in the ground. The flow of the game is a crucial component of it’s entertainment, it remains to be seen what harm, half a dozen VAR calls would do to the frenetic and distinct pace of the Premier League.
It is, at least though, a step in the right direction. Referees are now having to contend with a faster, more frenetic game. Some of their calls, and those of their assistants have been frankly awful and costing teams dearly. But they do need some help.
Goal line technology has been a breath of fresh air and pretty much eradicated controversy. VAR is another positive step forward which needs to be embraced and finely tuned, for the good of the game.