For Us Cynics, Dread for the Premier League: VAR Really is Coming
‘This is your future. It’s all so obvious’. Words Johnny Nicholson said to me in reply after I tweeted at him my dread for VAR in the Premier League next season; like a message the villain gives to the supposed hero at the end of the film’s first volume, the kind of message that almost inevitably comes to pass in the sequel. Watching the Tottenham-Dortmund game, another one of the UEFA Champions League knockout matches where the Video Assistant Referee has been introduced, my eternal angst continued, particularly in the case of two corners: one which was taken after a was-it-wasn’t-it offside situation, which means if a goal had come from the initial situation, it would have been reviewed, but if a goal had come from the corner, no review; and the other which was taken after VAR reviewed an incident immediately before it.
Those are two of my no-no’s about VAR, the delay and the madness. Another staunch example is watching Derby’s FA Cup game at Southampton in January, a game in which Craig Bryson ‘scores’, then I stop away for a bit, only to return to find a tedious VAR review, and, surprise surprise, goal cancelled. Hence my initial message to Nicholson, who’s also voiced his thoughts about the technology. Many of which I agree with, from the fact that puts a kill on emotions in the game, to the fact that football is most thrilling as a one-off, that players don’t get do-overs, then why should referees.
But even overlooking those, another qualm I have with VAR is how its operation is fundamentally wrong, i.e. VAR is meant to only review clear and obvious errors. That means, if VAR calls the referee’s attention to it; a) the decision should always be reversed (which hardly happens), and b) the decision shouldn’t take an age (which frequently happens). Plus, there’s the issue of the fans on the pitch having little clue of what goes when VAR checks happen, just like UEFA taking to social media to explain why they disallowed Nicolas Tagliafico’s effort for Ajax against Real Madrid last night.
And from next season, this becomes more common. The technology that has made its entry into four of Europe’s top five leagues will be in the Premier League from the 2019/20 season. Calls for it to put into the English top-flight had been rising, particularly last November, when Charlie Austin didn’t hide his distaste when he believed refereeing decisions cost Southampton at home to Watford, and from the next campaign, it becomes part of the Premier League.
And so, dread. With the Premier League being the league I watch the most, plus the combination of my dread for VAR, the prospect of games with VAR hardly fill me with joy. This isn’t a call against VAR. Despite my reasons against it, this isn’t a message to convince people on how VAR shouldn’t be here, after all, to steal from Nicholson, people on the different sides of the divide will almost certainly never agree. Rather, this is a note on how I feel about VAR coming, and there’s hardly any doubt that many of the Anti-VAR crusade won’t, or don’t already, feel this dread as well.
It’s a clichéd saying that one should hope for the best, and expect the worst. So, I’m hoping for some reversal, an epic fail that convinces all to do away with VAR, or at least make the Premier League opt against it. But I’m expecting the next season to be downer, where VAR buzzkills quite a few games, and a year on from now, I get a message from Johnny Nicholson, telling me, ‘I told you this was your future’. Or maybe I should just find a way to watch the Championship instead.