VAR DEBATE

AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

ALEX CROOK OPINION: It’s now VARcical

talkSPORT’s chief football correspondent ALEX CROOK gives his opinion on where VAR goes now in light of Luis Diaz’s onside goal ruled out on Saturday …..


‘You don’t know what you’re doing,’ screamed a crowd gathered outside Craven Cottage on Monday night as referee Tim Robinson arrived to take charge of Chelsea’s much-needed win over west London neighbours Fulham.

It is not often that the men in black are taunted even before a ball is kicked, and Robinson, who went on to have a pretty good game, was not really the target of their ire.

No, this was a very public example of fans rising up against the increasing ineptitude of officials that is threatening to undermine the Premier League’s status as the best in the world.

Barely 24 hours earlier Liverpool had released a strongly-worded statement demanding answers and pledging to ‘explore the range of options available’ after seeing Luis Diaz’s perfectly onside goal ruled out in farcical (or should that be VAR-CICAL) fashion as they crashed to defeat at Tottenham.

While the passive aggressive nature of their wording, which also suggested that sporting integrity had been ‘undermined’ by the barely believable events at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, were condemned in some quarters, many sympathised with the Reds’ frustrations.

Football is perhaps the most tribal of any spectator sport, but, just as when supporters up and down the land joined forces to see off the European Super League, club rivalries have largely been cast aside for the greater good.

Red or Blue, City or United, everybody agrees that Darren England’s failure to realise that the on-field team had wrongly chalked off Diaz’s goal when he uttered those two little words ‘check complete’ has to be a watershed moment.

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Such blunders simply cannot be tolerated any more, neither can they be explained away as ‘human error’ or brushed under the carpet with a hollow apology from the increasingly under-siege Howard Webb, who is having to put out more fires than on your average Guy Fawkes Night.

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‘My Sundays generally look like this: watch the little boy play football, speak to Howard Webb, have a Sunday roast, start to prep for the next game,’ joked now Wolves boss Gary O’Neil when he was in charge of Bournemouth last season after yet another controversial VAR call had gone against his side.

But this is no longer a laughing matter, no longer a reason to share a giggle with mates in the local pub on a Saturday night.

The hard truth is that managers, players and fans have lost faith in VAR, or more specifically have no trust in our officials to use the equipment properly.

The appointment of Webb (pictured below), the affable and approachable former World Cup final referee, as head of Premier League referees last year, was seen as a positive step to raise standards and provide more transparency.

To be fair Webb has tried to engage with the fans via the media and has done a good job in humanising referees by making public the audio from the VAR room at Stockley Park, the Premier League’s headquarters, in his monthly TV slot alongside Michael Owen.

But it is very hard for Webb to argue standards have improved on his watch and officials now seem more afraid than ever to use their initiative and think on their feet when it comes to making big calls.

Having realised his grotesque error Darren England would have been defying protocol by telling on-field referee Simon Hooper to stop the game and award the goal.

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Nobody, even Spurs boss Ange Postecoglu, would have had reasonable grounds to complain if England had done just that, so moving forward there needs to be a lore more room for good old-fashioned common sense.

One of the big issues I have had with the use of video technology in this country is that we do not have an independent team of VAR officials.

Just look at the miniscule number of times that a referee is called over to the pitch-side monitor and overrules his mate in the VAR room. My suspicion has always been that this is because they do not want to be seen to publicly undermine each other knowing the boot could be on the other foot next week.

Another hot topic of discussion since Saturday teatime has been the fact that Darren England was allowed to travel to the UAE to take charge of a midweek game before jetting back in for his weekend assignment.

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Surely, we have to pay our referees handsomely enough that they do not need to be making such unnecessary trips to supplement their income?

If we want the best in class then we have to reward them accordingly, which may also help attract better officials from outside the UK to the Premier League.

The final point I feel Webb needs to address to help win back public faith is by rolling out that transparency he promised to fans actually inside the stadiums.

Armchair viewers on TV get the benefit of umpteen replays and confirmation from commentators as to why and when a VAR review is taking place.

This does not happen inside grounds, which is a bit off given the average cost of a Premier League ticket. I would advocate for Webb to allow the conversation between the VAR room and the referee to be played on stadium PA systems. That way at least everybody knows where they stand.

ALEX CROOK


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