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Premier League, VAR, and what’s ‘Clear and Obvious’

Spurs 1-1 Watford VAR

Tottenham didn’t quite eradicate – or even abate – their crisis at the weekend. But at least they put a pause on the defeat-o-meter, as they grabbed a late equaliser at home to Watford after going behind early on. Spurs were far from at their best, with their late surge bordering more on desperation than any real coherent plan, and probably should have fallen further behind with the way they were constantly exposed at the back. They also could – and probably should – have conceded a penalty in the first half.

Gerard Deulofeu had gotten to by-line with the ball inside Spurs’ eighteen-yard area when he went down under the challenge of Jan Vertonghen. Referee Chris Kavanagh gave nothing, and then consulted VAR, which also gave nothing. It wasn’t ‘clear and obvious’.

That leads to questions concerning our beloved footballing machine of right and justice: what is clear and obvious? Replays showed that Deulofeu had a case, but VAR’s rules state a decision can’t be overturned unless it’s a clear and obvious error. But you do wonder what would have to be clear and obvious, or how clear and obvious the term ‘clear and obvious’ would have to be.

It was a similar situation later that day when Manchester City met Crystal Palace, and Kevin de Bruyne went down following a challenge from James Tomkins. Again, no penalty from the ref (Anthony Taylor, this time). Again, VAR consultation changed nothing.

Then to Old Trafford a day later, when Manchester United took the lead against Liverpool through Marcus Rashford, moments after Divock Origi went down and appealed for a free-kick following a tackle from Victor Lindelof. This time, Martin Atkinson was the man in the middle, and like Messrs Taylor and Kavanagh, gave nothing, and VAR didn’t contradict him.

Again, there’s a point that those weren’t clear and obvious errors, and by the letter of VAR, all went well. But football is a highly subjective sport, and decisions are most likely to be grey, rather than black and white. And this stance of VAR, of wanting to see the game in completely black and white (which birthed the ridiculous new handball law) is one of the reasons why the technology remains – and may well always be – heavily flawed.

Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool VAR
Marcus Rashford gives Manchester United the lead against Liverpool (Image: Sport 360)

No one –except the most cynical Spurs fans – would have argued against Deulofeu getting a penalty if it had been the case; yet it had to be ‘clear and obvious’ for it to be overturned. And this in itself raises another question over VAR.

In all three cases, the referees had their hands to their ear for a while before confirming that nothing would be overturned. If those decisions aren’t clear and obvious, why do they need so much time to be reviewed? This is probably why the defences to the criticism that VAR takes too much have little to stand on. If it’s a clear and obvious decision, it wouldn’t take time to see; if it’s not clear and obvious, then that should be realised after one view that it’s not, and everyone should get on with the game.

It looks like VAR, in the Premier League, is only used to enforce the ridiculous handball law – see Sadio Mane’s goal which was ruled out at Old Trafford at the weekend – declare marginal offsides, taking the term ‘minimum interference’ to some level.

So, what do we do with what looks like a conundrum? The technology can’t be binned, no matter how much some want it to. And VAR seem constantly against overturning the decisions of the on-pitch. Not to mention the other flaws, or how its mere presence, for some, is just nauseating.

So, like in the case of a defaulting relationship partner, we shall continue to listen to calls of ‘it will get better’, ‘give it time’. But, we have to ask the technology, both on the pitch and with its introduction’ ‘how much time do you need?’


More VAR at the Tottenham Stadium, after Dele Alli’s late equaliser had to be checked for potential handball. Referee Kavanagh, after consultation with those at the helm of the machine, confirmed that the goal had been given. Not that the scoreboard knew, as it announced to the stadium that the goal had been disallowed.

VAR Tottenham 1-1 Watford Sky
Errrr… lads (Image: Sky)

So, Manchester United did the impossible this weekend, getting a deserved draw at home to leaders Liverpool. The Red Devils put in a rather creditable performance, completely alien to their previous displays, to halt their rivals’ winning run and prevent Jurgen Klopp’s side from an 18th successive league win. In the three games they’ve played so far against last season’s top six, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team have lost none, with a win and two draws.

Manchester City returned to winning ways at Selhurst Park, after fielding a starting line-up containing seven midfielders, two of whom weren’t at centre-back. A rather comfortable victory against Crystal Palace featured a second goal of deluxe class, and some inexplicability as to how Raheem Sterling never managed to get on the score-sheet.

A much-needed – and much deserved – win for Everton, who saw off West Ham at Goodison, to halt a sequence of four successive league defeats. For West Ham, it’s a second defeat on the bounce.


Manchester United 1-1 Liverpool; Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester
City; Wolves 1-1 Southampton; Everton 2-0 West Ham; Aston Villa 2-1 Brighton;
Chelsea 1-0 Newcastle; Bournemouth 0-0 Wolves; Tottenham 1-1 Watford; Leicester
2-1 Burnley
Monday Night Football: Sheffield United v Arsenal

Kunle Ajao126 Posts

Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not


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