Premier League clubs are missing the point with VAR scrapping vote

Steven Chicken
A pitchside video review in progress
Whether VAR is scrapped or not, will anybody be any happier with the standard of refereeing?

The twenty Premier League clubs will vote on whether or not to scrap VAR next month, but whatever the outcome, one thing is guaranteed: nobody will be happy next season.

Personally, I can’t imagine the VAR vote will pass. Even if some, perhaps even most, of the clubs have recent grievances, when push comes to shove it’s hard to imagine they would ditch even a flawed failsafe in favour of no failsafe at all.

Premier League managers and fans will never be satisfied, with or without VAR

Whichever way it goes, though, it’s largely immaterial. It’s obvious that nobody will ever be satisfied. Covering the Championship week to week, I have seen more than a couple of managers asking for VAR to be introduced to the second tier to catch decisions that have gone against their side.

The very clubs that vote in favour of retaining VAR, even after five years of experience seeing how it works, will continue to complain about anything they feel goes against them. If, by some remote chance, VAR is actually scrapped, managers will soon be complaining that it never should have been done away with.

It’s a hackneyed point to make, true nonetheless, that those very managers will come out in front of the microphones to defend their players for making mistakes, even while in the very next breath demanding perfection in the officiating – which is simply never going to happen. It is an unattainable standard. They might as well be hunting Bigfoot.

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That’s not to say there aren’t massive blunders made under either system, because patently there are. Sometimes they defy explanation, and sometimes the upset they cause is understandable, if wailingly disproportionate.

But the vast majority of the time, even in such a low-scoring sport, the results are determined more by what happens in the other 88 or 89 minutes of football than in the one or two that contain questionable refereeing decisions.

Very commonly, you will see a side down towards the bottom of the table complaining that a penalty decision or disallowed goal has cost them points – then when you look at the stats, you see they had something like six shots all game, just one of which was on target. Which one accounts for that defeat more: the referee making a mistake, or you being crap?

You know that officiating errors are possible, even likely; ensuring your team is good enough to overcome them over the course of the season is no less an inevitable part of the game than injuries, goalkeeping errors, missed sitters or a star striker’s inexplicable loss of form.

Yet we disproportionately react to refereeing mistakes, first because it is more of an emotive issue that can be squarely blamed on a third party who none of us have any particular interest in defending; and secondly, because it is far easier for a TV production team to fill their time and get their social media shares by poring over even the least objectionable officiating calls for minutes after minute, game after game, ramping up the outrage further and further in the process.

From both angles, it’s hard to blame fans for getting upset: that’s what fans are for. There is no requirement for rationality in a pastime that is built on passion. Every football fan above a certain age still has ready access to memories of some officiating gaffe from 20 years ago, held onto just as bitterly as if it happened last week. I include myself in that just as much as anybody else.

For the clubs, though, and their failure to accept the simple facts of life that mistakes happen and things aren’t always fair…that’s largely self-imposed.

We’re loath to call it a loss of perspective, because the stakes are undeniably unbearably high for the players and clubs involved, most especially down at the bottom of the table.

But remind us: who is it that’s responsible for the huge revenue gap between the Premier League and the Championship? Who is it that votes on that again, consistently choosing the option that serves them best and labouring under the delusion that they are far too clever and brilliant ever to be relegated or miss out on a Champions League place?

Perhaps that’s something for them to think about before worrying about their cryptozoological hunt for the perfect referee.

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