VAR has become football’s main talking point with some bizarre decisions this season especially – but is the biggest issue the rules or the referees using it?


IT’S funny how quickly something can become a cliche.

The cliche that has been most used during this pandemic is that these are “unprecedented times”, which is obviously a reflection of the fact that the word unprecedented has been used an unprecedented number of times.

During these unprecedented times, there are an unprecedented amount of people all but locked inside their own homes and unable to do the things that previously set the precedent for how each of us lived our lives.

At first, I was quietly intrigued by the idea of having to alter my routine and was just relieved to be healthy enough to do so, as well as appreciating the value in spending time with my family when millions across the world were having theirs ripped apart by the virus.

To see that people are still being left to struggle as they’re being made redundant, their businesses forced to close and they’re left to fend for themselves by those who are the main reason as to why we’re still in this mess is, to put it frankly, shite.

Now more than ever we need an escape to pull us away from our real-life version of Groundhog Day.

But what do we do when one of those escapes starts to feel like its own version of Groundhog Day? When all the discourse around the thing we love so much becomes a repetitive circle of its worst qualities. At any other time you may decide to take a bit of a break away from it all, but that’s not exactly possible for most of us right now.

I am of course talking about the endless debate that surrounds refereeing, Video Assistant Referees and the rules of football.

I have listed all three of those to highlight the fact that we aren’t necessarily focusing on just one aspect. All three are linked and though VAR is still a relatively new invention, we’ve moaned at least a bit about the other two aspects in the pre-VAR world.

Did we moan about it as much before? The refereeing part, probably. Refs have been broadly considered to be a bit shit at their jobs for as long as I’ve been a sentient human being. The rules have arguably only become a bone of contention when there has been a change, and after a while we adapt and find other things to moan about. Like the refs again.

When VAR was originally introduced I was not against it as a concept. I suppose the issue was that my interpretation of that concept has been vastly different to reality, as most of us continue to find out with each passing game, adding to the feeling that they’re just making it up as they go.

My interpretation of what VAR was supposed to be was that there would be a bloke sat in a room with a load of screens and his job would be to watch crucial incidents and tell the referee when he has got a decision made in normal time wrong.

Oh, but it had to be a clear and obvious error. Otherwise we’d all start to lose the will to live. Wouldn’t we?

That man with his screens would then have a little chat with the ref through his earpiece – “eh lad, dunno about that shout you know, might want another look at that” – and then the ref would stop the game and go and have a look on his pitchside monitor.

If the ref then decided he’d made a clear and obvious error, he’d overturn his original decision, otherwise the game would carry on and we’d probably all call him a cunt anyway.

That, to my mind, would be the way to introduce VAR without it having too much of an impact on the ebb and flow of our game, and maintaining the entertainment aspect which makes it a multi-billion pound product.

The issue lies in the fact that, as previously mentioned, the reality has been something very, very different and very, very shit.

Look, I’m not saying this because I think that the incident involving Fabinho against Sheffield United wasn’t a penalty or whatever. I couldn’t really care less now because we won, and I understand that doesn’t really help anybody but it helps my mental wellbeing so soz.

I think the problem with the Fabinho incident is that the ref even needs to have a look at it. Are we all saying that the referee’s decision to give a freekick was that much of a clear and obvious error that it needed to be looked at again?

Sorry, but I’m not having that.

Same with the Sadio Mane offside against Everton – yes, these are both examples which went against Liverpool but I’ve not watched West Brom, or Fulham, or whoever enough this season to know how much other teams are being impacted – was it really clear and obvious that the referee and his officials were wrong to decide that wasn’t offside initially?

Obviously my version of how it should work is subjective, and what different football fans and officials think constitutes a clear and obvious error is bound to differ. Well that’s where I think the rules need to come into play and the refs should get more help.

I’m not convinced for a second that any Sheffield United fan watched the Fabinho tackle in real time and were convinced it was a penalty. The super slow-mo replays may have shown that the striker’s foot was on the line, but they also show that it probably isn’t even a foul.

So why can’t we just bat on from there, if it’s too close to call?

There are flaws in my idea of what VAR should do, but I guarantee we’d get a much more entertaining product than what we’re being given at the moment. Drawing lines to decide somebody is offside and checking replays to decide whether a tackle is inside or outside the box and not whether it is actually a foul? That can get in the bin for me, Clive.

Now more than ever it’s hard to find an escape from the reality we’re facing of large-scale mortality and the endless lack of leadership shown by those in charge of running the country.

But I’d find it all a bit easier to stomach if chats about the footy weren’t sapping the life out of us too.

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