Why Premier League VAR has Failed

Why Premier League VAR has Failed

Every week, fans and pundits around the country are talking more and more about VAR. Each week the debate turns from one of learning how to accept the video referee to questioning its existence. There’s no doubt it has failed in the Premier League. I won’t repeat the same observations from A Game too VAR but since then, the evidence against the technology has been sidelined by the application of the rules.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) under the direct authority of FIFA issues the Laws of the Game every season. This year’s (2019/20) rulebook came into effect from the start of June. It is the rulebook every governing body — including UEFA — need to comply with. This includes the application of VAR. To use it, an association or competition has to follow the IFAB VAR Protocol.

You’ll have heard terms lifted from the rulebook all season, the biggest soundbite has been “clear and obvious error”. This simple directive now faces ambiguity because of the way Premier League Assistant Referees have ignored this instruction. A heel offside isn’t clear or obvious. It’s not even correct. The two types of technology required to be that precise do not exist.

The first being the ability to measure millimetres from existing camera angles without exact datum points on opposing players. The second, is the inability to determine when the attacking player’s foot plays the ball forward using 0.25 of a second freeze frames. There is an indeterminate amount of time when the ball will receive the force, slightly absorb it, then visually propel forward.

This isn’t the Premier League accidentally overlooking the IFAB rule book, it is a conscious decision. In their definition and explanation of VAR principles it is stated: Factual decisions such as whether a player is onside or offside, or inside or outside the penalty area, will not be subject to the clear and obvious test.

It goes against the extensive set of instructions the IFAB created when authorising nations to implement VAR, as stated in Chapter 2 of the rulebook: The referee’s original decision will not be changed unless there was a ‘clear and obvious error’ (this includes any decision made by the referee based on information from another match official e.g. offside).

Another clear instruction from the IFAB rule book is that a VAR official doesn’t have the power to make a decision. They can only give recommendations. The Premier League do acknowledge this and have even given a by-the-numbers process for referees in this scenario: Where the information received from the VAR falls outside of the referee’s expectation range or where there is a serious missed incident, they should use the RRA to assist with the final decision. 

The problem is, no referee in England’s top flight ever uses the RRA (Referee Review Area). It is clear the IFAB suggest an RRA isn’t necessary if the VAR official reports back with an overwhelming oversight that is so clear and obvious it isn’t worth the jog to the halfway line. For everything else, the ref needs to be taking a look. 

Perhaps on-field reviews were killed off in this country by the Liverpool FA Cup tie against West Bromwich Albion in January 2018. That particular game saw referee Craig Pawson spend three minutes at the pitch side monitor. West Brom manager Alan Pardew claimed VAR delays caused hamstring injuries to two of his players. The RRA hasn’t been used in big English games since.

If this was the reason RRA was shelved in England, that’s a further indictment against VAR. In the trials that should have highlighted problems, we ignored another issue — to add to the growing list — and forced it in regardless.

An interesting rule about replays reads as such: The referee can request different cameras angles/replay speeds but, in general, slow motion replays should only be used for facts e.g. position of offence/player, point of contact for physical offences and handball, ball out of play (including goal/no goal); normal speed should be used for the ‘intensity’ of an offence or to decide if it was a handball offence.

It’s the final part which really stands out — “normal speed should be used”. This clearly has been ignored in the Premier League. The on field referee who should be reviewing the incidents on a pitch side monitor choose not to. We then watch endless replays of the VAR ref doing exactly what the laws of VAR tell him he shouldn’t: he watches it over-and-over again in slow motion. A non-deliberate handball then becomes a penalty.

Trent Alexander-Arnold handled against Manchester City but the Premier League’s VAR Chief, Neil Swarbrick, defended the decision saying, “It was from a short distance, his arm did not move towards the ball and it was not deliberate. His arm was in a natural position for his body position at that time and he was happy for that to go.”

The same could be said — if not more so — for Çağlar Söyüncü’s handball when Leicester played Liverpool. His arm was by his side, he made efforts to wrap it around his back, it was close range, yet it was a penalty. The replays used were slowed down rather than accept the intent — if any — in real time.

There was always going to be human error with VAR, what exacerbates the situation is when the humans involved are picking and choosing which VAR protocols the IFAB have written into law they’ll actually use, then appearing to be inconsistent with the redrawn lines.

Back to the Alexander-Arnold “handball”, another facet to this debate is how it appeared to touch Bernardo Silva’s arm before Trent’s. By the letter of the new law, any contact with the attacking player’s hand/arm, is a foul regardless of intent. Liverpool went on to score from the breakaway. Should they have been under review for giving away a penalty then redeemed by Silva’s arm but denied the chance to score?

The “phases of play” argument is now alive and well thanks to VAR. Foden’s goal for Manchester City against Everton ruled out because a “pre-assist” pass was offside. By the letter of the law: correct decision. But there’s not a clear marker for when a phase of play can be reviewed from, most weeks it changes. Sometimes even in the same game week.

Liverpool versus Wolves, Virgil van Dijk handles the ball then whips it long into Adam Lallana who assists Sadio Mané. Same principle, a “pre-assist” pass. No longer using the rule the attacking player handling — regardless of intent — is classed as a foul, supposedly because of the phase of play.

This article isn’t meant to take aim at Liverpool. Wolves are the team most affected by VAR (at a cost of -7 points). Liverpool’s lead at the top would be halved if VAR hadn’t been used but there’s no denying they have been head and shoulders above the competition. Because of that, poor VAR officiating in their games will draw more attention.

The disallowed “heel” offside in the Villa game this weekend received a fair amount of media coverage. Imagine if that had been against Liverpool? VAR would really be at risk of cancellation.

Which brings us to the ground swell of public opinion that VAR needs a review to the extreme idea it should just be scrapped altogether. Mid-season, there’s zero chance of the Premier League even modifying the application of the system. To do so would call into question the integrity of the competition. The problem is, the Premier League’s integrity falls away with every bad, incorrect or pedantic VAR call.

The Twitter account above has a 14,000 strong petition on Change.org to remove the use of VAR in the Premier League. That number will continue to rise. People in the stadia need to take action too. One fan on Twitter suggested:

Perhaps a co-ordinated walkout of the 15:00 kick offs, or the refusal to return after halftime will send a strong message. The global TV audience will see empty stadiums because of the mess VAR has become. The Premier League doesn’t care about the law (it’s not using the IFAB protocol correctly), it doesn’t care about the fans in the stadium, it does care about it’s global image.

We need to hit them where it hurts and make the product appear tarnished and in disarray. Back in August, the majority were prepared to accept VAR and grow accustomed to its effect on the game. Months later, it’s clear that acceptance would be akin to assisted suicide for domestic football.

VAR has to go, before the fans do.

2010s: A Decade that invited the next Great Depression

2010s: A Decade that invited the next Great Depression

I once asked the question: why did I join Tumblr? The answer is probably for post likes this. The sort of post that is a personal reflection of something a wider audience doesn’t expect (or want) on my main site (but they’ll probably get anyway). The sort of post that looks back at a year, and then a decade. The sort of post that does so with a somber mood.

The Great Depression started in 1929, by then the world had seen one World War and was heading toward another. The turn of the new millennium has at least avoided this fate. It has followed history in other respects. The rise of the far right; anti-Semitism becoming commonplace, first with language and then actions; the poor being left further behind by the rich. 

Okay, we’re not heading to the sort of depression that was incorrectly labelled as Great. It’s a different type of one. The last decade — so devoid of colour it doesn’t even have a moniker like the swinging sixties or even the bland noughties — has invited a collective mindset to emerge that prays on fear and insecurities.

I wasn’t a massive fan of being a teenager, it’s apt that I’m not big on the decade with the teenage years in its numbering. The Tens (that’s what I’m going with) saw us accept the reduction of aspiration. We can thank austerity for this. If after years of being told there’s no money, a tightening of the belt required, it permeates into the collective mindset. Even for those that have disposable income.

Most of us ended up in houses we wished were bigger, working more hours than we’d like, mixing in shrinking social circles, watching others lead perfect lives on Instagram while being old enough to complain about it all on Facebook. Or in my case, not even bothering with the moan on Facebook because I can’t stomach the trawl through people’s dinners or exercise regimes.

It was a decade where Coldplay became the biggest stadium band on the planet. Now, I’ve been to several Coldplay gigs in the last decade so it’s safe to say I’m a fan but think about that for a minute: Coldplay are the biggest draw the globe has to offer. Coldplay.

They should be a great side act while generation defining entertainers shape the mood of the day. Instead, we see all acts from all decades converge via YouTube into every popular music venue around the planet. The time of today has become unstructured. Nothing defines The Tens. It was a place for compilation moods and the new blood was lacking any telling contribution.

Justin Bieber — a man with staying power and a massive fanbase — made the news in 2013 for not getting in a Manchester nightclub. A true global superstar that epitomised this decade could not enter a club incase he tarnished its image. That’s a club that no longer exists but were right at the time.

Of course, music is one aspect of a decade’s image. Politics is another that’s already been touched upon. The division will last another ten years unless a true centre-ground leader can unite the nation again.

Sport was better from this Man City fan’s perspective. Boxing saw some great fights and new household names emerge. It also saw some sports enter a beige state that’s indicative of the decade. Formula One hasn’t thrived since being sold to Liberty Media. It faces another year of purgatory before rule changes take effect.

Football is being damaged by the poor introduction of VAR. Real fans are becoming disillusioned with the clamouring to corporate types while the working class struggle to keep up. All the time, TV revenue rises and so do subscriptions. 

All this comes from a negative perspective. I’m sure there’s further evidence that less people are in poverty (on a global scale), there are less wars than ever and the standard of living has risen over the last forty years. It could be the forty year mark that has made this mindset appear. Hitting the big four-O creates a period of introspection.

The last year would be rated 4/10 if IMDb existed for dates and not movies. There have been personal achievements and life changes that viewed from the outside would make people expect it to be at least a 7/10. But the end of an average decade has been decidedly below average. Perhaps this is a natural decline in the order of things. My sister told me I was entering the Winter of my Life when forty came around. It was a joke with substance. 

The previous decade did appear like summer in comparison.

This is where a younger person will (rightly) complain about hearing the old “it was better in my day” line. For teenagers and young adults right now, I’m sure they can list many pop culture instances that — to them — match my own from yesteryear. They need to remember, this is my winter (or a very cold autumn).

The younger people also need to appreciate this decade is going to be remembered as the Snowflake Generation. It’s a time when people melt before your eyes with anything that slightly deviates from the clinical, politically correct handbook. Humour has been replaced with self-righteous application of impractical moral codes.

We all should respect one another. There should be fairness and equality for all. We shouldn’t stamp out any non-malicious viewpoint because of how it makes us feel. Comedy notoriously — and quite rightly — toes the line between offence and laughs. If you can’t laugh at something a comic says, it means you kinda have some intent when laughing along with other edgy jokes.

It’s also created a sub-culture of conditions. Everyone no has one. When I get depressed, I am depressed. It’s incredibly difficult to share that with anyone (99.9% of the time, I don’t). The “It’s okay not to be okay” campaigns have been great for raising mental awareness but over time they have been hijacked by those looking for the next fad.

The decade’s been so grim, people have been giving themselves faux conditions to be on trend.

That last remark will undoubtedly offend some people but it’s just my observation. It hasn’t been a collective time of improvement but one of whining. The Brexit situation comes to mind. People moaning about what is wrong rather than working to make it better (I’m aware of the irony this post represents here).

Big pressure on 2020 to step up to the plate. It’s got an uphill battle. 2019 left it in the shit. An impeached President, Boris Johnson the saviour of the British working class and Rod Stewart top of the album charts.

I remember Mad Dog 20/20. The idea of 2020 itself back then was futuristic; flavoured alcoholic drinks a little juvenile. The mad dogs are now here and everyone is necking more varieties of gin than a shelf of early alcopops could have ever dreamed up. 

Does this indicate a return to headier times? I’m going to buy some Hooch, just in case.

The Brexit General Election: A Blueprint for Dystopia

The Brexit General Election: A Blueprint for Dystopia

A lifelong Labour voter, a left-wing liberalist and a hardline Remainer all go to a Polling Station. They each take a ballot paper and place a cross next to the Conservative candidate. As they leave, they all pull faces of distaste at the right-wing nationalist entering the booth. The latter votes for the Brexit Party. They all knew their choices would lead to a Tory government.

It sounds like a bad joke. It is a bad joke. It is also the reality of Britain’s 2019 winter General Election. Boris Johnson kept it simple with “Get Brexit Done”. In these divisive times, it became a unifying message. People couldn’t face another period of an ineffective government. Those who voted Leave and Remain started to wonder why they voted in the first place and lost the passion for either argument. Not all the people, but we’ll get to them in a moment.

Another hung parliament would have been a disaster so some decided to take the lesser of two evils. It shouldn’t be surprising that the same MPs who spoke down to the public, were condescending and ignored their wishes for three years, would suddenly be able to reconnect during campaigning. They had made their beds, the British public were prepared to sleep uneasy by making a painful choice.

For many, like those that propped up The Red Wall, the acceptance of a Tory government was something painful to stomach. Actively seeking it would, under normal circumstances, seem impossible. Labour has placed the entire blame on Brexit. Corbyn detractors blame his extreme socialist manifesto. There is some merit to this idea. No one quite believed the sums behind the promises. The Diane Abbott factor didn’t help.

As grim as some try and paint this Tory victory (others, of course, have rejoiced) how does it link to the blueprint for dystopia this article’s title suggests?

Literature and film is full of not-too-distant futures where recognisable countries have fallen to facist regimes. The most obvious, due to its London setting and strong political undertones, is V for Vendetta. Like all such set-ups, the viewer accepts the basic premise. They get fed a bit of backstory setting up the proposition and the rest of the film sees the heroes try and fight for freedom and justice.

Every time I’ve seen V for Vendetta, there’s always a moment where the suspension of disbelief is removed and the chances of it occurring are analysed. (If that doesn’t make me sound like the most exciting cinema date, nothing ever will.) Could Britain ever really fall foul to a facist regime, especially with its inherent pride of defeating the Nazis in World War Two?

It always seemed highly improbable. Then Brexit happened. Then the post-Brexit divide created the sort of environment to nurture extremism. It’s clear now that for a country to turn bad at the top, it doesn’t need a majority of its citizens to make ignorant, evil, or poor choices. You don’t even need to mislead them too much. The bad eggs will always exist but their numbers will never grow to the size required to swing a General Election.

Nor will the do-gooders ever multiply in vast quantities to fend off a facist uprising. The battle is won and lost in the centre ground. To be more precise, those that sit to the left and right of it. Ask Tony Blair. His 1997 landslide was all about making that massive part of the population believe in him. The far-left in his own party didn’t, they just accepted it was preferable to further Tory rule.

Now Boris has secured the vote of the same people. But there’s a difference: they don’t believe in Boris like they did Blair, they voted with fatigue and fear. Fear of more uncertainty. Fear that the opposition was inept. Fear that they were out of time and choices.

In dystopia, the keys of power are always legitimately handed over. Once in power, the rights and freedoms slowly retract. The Emperor in Star Wars didn’t take the galaxy by force (no pun intended). A council voted in his explicit rule during a time of uncertainty.

An evil chancer getting the hot seat isn’t enough in itself for dystopia to take hold. The centre left and right need to be subdued further but that can only come once they see no other choice. Enter the disenfranchised left-wingers. They are the unwitting secret weapon of the far-right. During the election campaign, and the anti-Brexit movement that preceded it, they recruited more people for the Conservatives than any Tory MP or the Prime Minister, any fraudulent advert or piece of misleading information.

It was the self-righteous left-wing movement that insisted they knew better than the people. This made the people defy their message. Even after election day, papers like The Guardian and The Independent ran articles that continued the notion people didn’t understand what they had chosen. So yeah, after telling them for three years they weren’t educated enough to understand their Leave vote, they decided to patronise them over the General Election too.

The ignorance wasn’t from the people, it was the self-proclaimed “Good Guys”.

During the campaign, it’s clear the “Good Guys” believe the ends now justify the means. Morality can be shelved until later because for now, it’s more important to stop the “Bad Guys”. The “Bad Guys” in their eyes being the Tories, who should have been easy to make the villains no-one from a Northern working-class background could vote for. 

But people are willing to risk further austerity, policies like Universal Credit and the mistrust of Boris over the floundering, patronising tones of the absent opposition.

In a time where we invite devices into our home that are always listening (Alexa, ask Siri if the government care what I’m making for tea), how we all become guilty of Orwellian doublethink and accept that Diane Abbott really does make 2+2=5 when she’s penning budgets, the malevolent threat of the Tories became safer than the mutually assured destruction born from further indecision. 

And the protests continue. There’ll be no People’s Vote so instead a minority takes to the streets attacking the notion of Boris as PM. They will now fight hard for Proportional Representation even though such a system virtually guarantees endless cycles of hung parliaments, something the British public will never want again.

Their continued and slowly more aggressive attacks will see sympathy from the voters in the centre dwindle further. The police are required to man more marches, using appropriate force. V for Vendetta’s police state then appears on the horizon. Scotland get their independence or get back under Westminster’s unquestionable rule, either way, unchallenged isolation takes hold.

And the remaining “Good Guys” keep recruiting for the regime they oppose through nothing more than their own ignorance. Dystopia creeps in just like this, V for Vendetta goes from fiction to fact, Boris from buffoon to Emperor Palpatine.

Of course, it doesn’t have to go this way.

The Conservative Party may well reinvent itself as something not too dissimilar to New Labour. Boris said he would try and earn the votes he knows are being “lent”. The left may re-emerge with more progressive ideals, a clearer message, and an apology for the air of superiority it has expressed during a time it fell lower down the political standing.

For the time being, Britain doesn’t get the government it deserves but the one it needs right now.