According to the official Premier League website, “In 2018/19, before VAR was introduced, the percentage of correct key match decisions was 82 per cent. With the help of VAR in 2019/20, it rose to 94 per cent.”
So that’s that then isn’t it? After all, if more correct decisions are being made at the elite level, VAR must unquestionably be a good thing. That was my initial standpoint on the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee. I was one of those insufferable, know it all types, who would not entertain the idea that VAR could be a bad thing if it meant fewer refereeing errors were being made.
It’s safe to say I’ve had the least impressive epiphany known to man where VAR is concerned, it is eroding the love we have for football. This is not specific to us Villa fans, it is an opinion shared by a large portion of the footballing public, a BBC Sport poll conducted by ComRes recently “found only a third of football fans across the UK said they believe VAR has made football better.” The same poll found that “44% of fans actually think it has made football worse”, a figure which rose to 59% of the over 55’s surveyed.
It’s not just the fans
The fans are not alone in their feelings of disdain towards the technology, which was supposedly implemented to improve the sport, managers from Jose Mourinho to our very own Dean Smith have been queuing up to offer their despair and dismay. The players themselves are amongst the ever-growing band of the angered, outraged, and downright perplexed:
“A lot of people I have spoken to are not enjoying football as much as they once did because it is constantly in review, constantly on a screen”
“Football is a great game that we fell in love with, and are still in love with, and it is important we don’t lose that.” – Andy Robertson.
A destructive process
Let us put to one side for a moment the decisions themselves, for me, it is the process which is most destructive. The process has taken from us the most jubilant, undulatingly exhilarant part of football, the celebration.
Celebrations will never be the same again, never again will there be that moment of raw, visceral, explosion, that pandemonium when you instantly (bar perhaps a quick glance at the linesman) throw your arms in the air, leap scream, hug a stranger.
Exhibit A is our last league fixture against West Ham, where my Dad refused to celebrate either the penalty award or Ollie Watkins late winner (ruled out) as he awaited the inevitable VAR check. Jamie Carragher described the current feeling perfectly:
“I don’t think people are enjoying football as much. The moment that sums it up for me is David Marshall saving the penalty for Scotland, a massive moment in his career and he could not celebrate as he was waiting for the referee. If I could go back, I would use VAR in a different way.”
This is where we find ourselves currently, David Marshall being unable to fully celebrate a potentially career-defining high due to fear of technological intervention.
VAR in 2020
Is there anything more symbolic of 2020 than VAR? The masses in lockdown, watching a screen, where a man watches a screen in a cavernous, empty monolith of an arena (insert Wembley, The Emirates, The London Stadium, The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium….). VAR is the embodiment of 2020, the ultimate sanitisation, as society fights an ongoing battle with the virus, fans wage their own war against Stockley Park.
So where do we go from here? There seems little to no chance of VAR being seen off, we are too far down the line for that. There needs to be a root and branch review as to its use, how it’s used when it’s used. The offside rule is an obvious place to start as decisions made on a weekly basis are farcical. There needs to be a higher bar for a VAR check, it seems to be used too often and takes an age, the flow of football is being irrevocably disrupted.
For our sanity and for the sanctity of the sport something must be done, I cannot bare another weekend of Ian Darke asking the opinion of Peter Walton whilst another endless check sucks the life out of the early kick-off.