By Reece Chambers
The introduction of Video Assistant Referees into the Emirates FA Cup has caused quite a discussion across British football. Whether the VAR system is ready to be fully introduced into football is another matter, but the VAR system is one that football is in desperate need of. Most crucially, time, patience and understanding should be given to its introduction into football.
With so much money riding on football matches in 2018, players and managers alike cannot be let down by incorrect decisions. You only have to look back to the latest transfer window to see how much money is influencing the activity of football clubs. A record-breaking January transfer window signifies just how far football has developed into a business.
In addition, if you delve deeper into the financial crux of football, you’ll find that Sky paid £4.2bn for the latest TV rights for Premier League matches. Beyond this, it is estimated that the Premier League is broadcast in 212 countries, reaching a combined audience of 5 billion viewers across the globe.
Therefore, there is absolute need for VAR to be fully introduced into the game. Without such introduction, football matches will continue to be hampered by incorrect decisions with billions of viewers watching an unnecessarily error-ridden spectacle.
With such a strong call for full-time VAR, it would be understandable to think this piece is a critique of referees. However, that is far from it. It must be appreciated that referees have an almost impossible task. According to PGMO (Professional Game Match Officials), Premier League referees make approximately 245 decisions per game, of which 98% are correct. That in mind, such severe criticism of referees seems ludicrous. Such is the pace of a Premier League game, human-error should be expected to creep in.
Most importantly, the introduction of VAR will allow referees to get every decision right. Thus, preventing outright verbal abuse towards match officials, excuses from managers in post-match conferences and any other excuse a player, coach or fan can cling onto. A world away from football that always points the finger towards referees is a world that we should all strive for. If, like referees, players and managers were to get 98% of their decisions right, they would certainly be heralded by the media. Therefore, the introduction of VAR should start a shift away from such an extraordinary blame culture in football.
Whilst being a great advocate of VAR in football, it should also be appreciated that it will not be an overnight fix. Just like the introduction of the back-pass rule in 1992, this will take a bit of getting used to. For all involved, there will be several lengthy pauses in matches that may disrupt the tempo of the match, to some extent. However, if we are to stick with VAR, it is something that fans, managers and players will have to get used to. There should be support for a system that guarantees the correct decision 100% of the time. If your team are denied a major trophy or local derby win by an incorrect decision, you’re going to point towards VAR, aren’t you?
If there is one fault of the current VAR system, it would be that there is a lack of consistency in usage. Surely the system should be used for an entire season in order to filter out teething issues that we have been subject to in recent FA Cup rounds. For instance, West Brom’s win at Anfield was dominated by VAR confusion, with Craig Pawson at the centre of controversy.
Nevertheless, football needs to stick with the system. If rugby, cricket and tennis can introduce video assistants to improve the performance of the officials, why can’t football do the same? It won’t be a smooth road on the journey towards error-free football, but its full-time introduction is a step that is necessary for the evolution of football.