A step too VAR?
Henry Hood looks at the continued problems with VAR in the English game. Is the technology the problem? Or is it an issue of the referees who use it?
If you search ‘VAR’ on Google, you’re met with endless critical articles about the controversies it creates. On YouTube, results include ‘Top 10 VAR Controversies this Season’ or Premier League highlights with titles including the words ‘VAR’ and ‘drama’.
The thing is, it’s not VAR that’s the problem, it’s the referees behind it. Or so you’d think, as the problem is impossibly complicated.
Ever since the 2018 World Cup, when a resounding zero English referees were invited to officiate, it feels like the scrutiny has been heavily on the Premier League referees. But if you look elsewhere, La Liga seem to have equally pressing gripes with VAR and therefore with the match officials. Accusations of VAR favouring Real Madrid have currently risen to a boiling point and Cadiz, (a low-table La Liga side) have issued a public letter to the Spanish Football federation to ‘fix VAR’.
Still, the fact remains that English referees notoriously make questionable decisions and it’s practically part of English culture to blame the referee for everything in a football match. Looking further into the world of VAR was rather exciting. My exploration into the laws of VAR slightly boggled me and also offered no useful information about the amusing red card mistakes of recent matches (Soucek, Luiz, and Bednarek’s to name a few).
Instead, I dug down the rabbit-hole of the referee pyramid in English football. It’s fascinating, and the more you dig, the more you start to realise there’s a crisis in English refereeing. Thanks to The Athletic, I found out the FA yearly budget for refereeing is £1.8million.
£1.8million. That’s it?
It’s a pathetically small number, yet supposedly is deemed enough to fund all referees across all tiers of English football.
Another issue is a large number of referees are retiring and no one wants to be a referee in today’s abusive game. Have you ever seen a young referee? Thought not. And that measly yearly budget is training whoever is coming up the ranks right now.
Now onto the promotion issues. To get promoted, you have to pass tests as a referee and score a certain rating throughout the season. However, the loophole remains that choosing to be an assistant can get you promoted much quicker than if you were to remain a referee. So, taking an uneducated guess, I’m presuming some less experienced referees are ending up in the VAR box.
These are also still referees deemed not good enough to go the World Cup. They are also under-paid, under-funded and constantly abused by fans, clubs, players and the media.
I’m sure you get the picture. What remains are the strange red cards like David Luiz’s against Wolves. According to ex-referee Dermot Gallagher, Luiz deserved to be sent off because he ‘denied a clear goalscoring opportunity without making a play on the ball’. Soucek surely did the same by accidentally elbowing Mitrovic, but his red card has since been rescinded.
It seems with VAR now having the power to determine a situation to the millimetre, referees are following the rulebook with a similar fervent scrutiny. The issue is though, some referees are following it closer than others. Interpretations of ‘intentional’ or ‘unintentional’ fouls is seemingly inconsistent from game to game; Soucek raising his elbow in a tussle in the box is unintentional but Luiz’s knee grazing the attacker while they’re both sprinting is clearly intentional.
Simply put, it’s a mess. The solution? Make the discussions between the referees and VAR open to all, fund the referee association more, and probably stop employing Mike Dean.