The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee system to football has been one of the biggest talking points in the round leather game in the past year. And that is for very good reasons. To start with, football is a fast-paced game that often requires the officials to make match altering decisions in just seconds. While most of these are usually gotten right, some aren’t. Yet, some of these decisions can have grave consequences for the teams involved.
A wrongly allowed or disallowed goal can be the difference between survival and relegation for a team in the league. It could mean the difference between progression in a cup competition or ouster from it. So can a red card that is wrongly issued or not given to a player. That explains why almost all of the major leagues in Europe have embraced and implemented it.
But the biggest advertisement of the system was at the 2018 World Cup in Russia where it was used extensively to help referees make correct calls in difficult situations. Despite the scepticism that preceded its deployment, it passed its examination with flying colours.
Yet, the technology is not utilised in a league that is considered by many as the best in the world – the English Premier League. And that is despite the fact that the need for its utilisation has become even more pressing by the day. Although in April, Premier League clubs voted against it being used for the 2018-19 season, the need for its use moving forward has been highlighted in the so many wrong decisions that are taken by match officials almost on a weekly basis.
Starting from the opening weekend of the current campaign, Arsenal were soundly beaten by Manchester City but could have had a penalty in the second-half when Shkodran Mustafi had his shirt pulled by Benjamin Mendy at a corner. There were numerous penalties awarded for this offence at the World Cup and if VAR was utilised in the league this season, that could have been given as well.
Man City was on the wrong end of a refereeing decision when Martin Atkinson completely missed the handball by French defender Boly who bundled in the ball from a free kick into the goal to give Wolves a one-goal lead over the Sky Blues. With the use of VAR, the goal will not have stood as goals scored with the help of a handball are usually ruled out.
Other goals that could have been ruled out with VAR intervention have been many. They include Filippe Anderson’s goal for West Ham against Manchester United, one of Man City’s goals against Burnley in a 5-0 win as the ball had already gone out of play, and more recently Arsenal’s goal against Crystal Palace should have been disallowed after a clear handball by Alexandre Lacazette who raises his hand and clearly helps the ball on its way to the back post before the goal is scored. This is to mention a few. Several other goals have also been wrongly disallowed as legitimate penalties have been denied as well.
The latest incident was Charlie Austin’s crucial second goal for Southampton against Watford that was ruled out because referee assistant Simon Hooper thought the ball had struck Maya Yoshida on the chest, or that the defender was in Ben Foster’s eye-line. Neither was the case and Southampton had a perfectly good goal ruled out. It was an incident that launched a thousand retweets and brought to the fore the ever increasing need for the video referee system in the league.
The bottom line in all of these is that the Premier League cannot introduce VAR soon enough. The introduction of the system in the league has not only become desirable but necessary. In fact, it has become a matter of urgency. And that perhaps explains why the league has finally agreed in principle to begin its use come next season.