The VAR Debacle – How Can Officials Get It So Wrong?

By Ian John
October 2, 2023

Once again, rather than focusing on an exciting and unexpected weekend of football in the Premier League, the focus has again switched to the Video Assistant Referee, or VAR as it is more commonly known.

No doubt there were other VAR decisions that went for or against teams over the weekend, but this past weekend the events at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, in the game between two unbeaten teams, Tottenham and Liverpool, have taken centre stage.

At the centre of the furore is the referee that was in charge of VAR for the game, Darren England, his assistant VAR official Dan Cook and the whole Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) organisation, which oversees the application of VAR throughout the Premier League.

And believe me, there will be a huge number of punters who may have placed their bets at bet365 Sport on the game, and who through the incompetence of the officials, could have been robbed of a win as a result.

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What Is The Issue With VAR?

When it was belatedly introduced into football, VAR was seen as a cure-all for controversial decisions. Those decisions that referees can get wrong in the heat of a game.

Introducing the technology wasn’t a smooth process. In the first couple of years of use, VAR decisions were taking too long to be decided.

There was confusion over how far back in a move the VAR should be used to make a decision.

Further mayhem was apparent when it came to the application of other rules, such as the handball rules, and what constitutes a fair, unfair, dangerous or violent tackle.

Over the years, bodies such as FIFA and the PGMOL have worked hard to smooth out these issues.

Unfortunately, in trying to do so, we are now in a position where VAR, rather than ensuring incorrect decisions are made correct, is itself making incorrect decisions, or offering referees highly-selective, slow-motion replays of incidents, which do not represent the actual game situation at all.

Since February 2022, there have been 13 incidences when the PGMOL has been forced to apologise to a team for making a big mistake on VAR, many of which directly influenced the outcome of the game.

Furthermore, there have been at least six more instances this season alone, where VAR should have intervened, but chose not to do so.

The most common errors made include:

  • Goals being awarded when they should have been disallowed.
  • Goals being disallowed when they should have been awarded.
  • Players given a red card for a challenge due chiefly to the slow-motion pictures shown to the referee after he initially awarded a yellow card for the incident.
  • Handballs not being given in the penalty box, even when reviewed by VAR (although to be fair, this is also due to the confusion surrounding the handball rules in the game at present)
  • The wrong player being sent off in game not being corrected by VAR
  • The offside line either not being drawn, or drawn in the wrong place, or drawn from the wrong player to show a player as either offside or onside, when in fact they were the opposite.

High Profile VAR Mistakes

  • Man Utd 1-0 Wolves – Manchester United keeper Andre Onana jumped into Wolves striker Kalajdzic in the penalty box. It was a clear foul but VAR did not award a penalty, nor recommend the keeper be booked. Instead, Wolves boss Gary O’Neill was given a yellow card for his protests. The PGMOL then apologised to Wolves after the game.
  • Arsenal 1-1 Brentford – With Arsenal chasing the Premier League title, PGMOL official Lee Mason incorrectly confirmed Brentford’s goal was onside, when he checked for offside using the wrong player. That cost Arsenal two points in the title race.
  • Tottenham 2-1 Brighton – Brighton were on the receiving end of a number of questionable VAR calls in this game, leading to Howard Webb apologising to the Seagulls after they were not awarded at least one penalty in this game. Two more duvious VAR decisions also went against them for a handball by Mitoma and another by Mac Allister in this game alone.  The Seagulls were also denied three points in February 2023 when a goal by Pervis Estupinan was ruled out in the 1-1 draw with Crystal Palace, when he drew the offside line in the wrong place, disallowing the goal incorrectly.
  • Manchester United 3-1 Arsenal – Earlu in the game, a Martinelli goal for Arsenal was ruled out by VAR due to a foul by Odegaard on Erikssen. PGMOL later stated the goal should have stood, which would have changed the game.
  • Everton 0-1 Manchester City – Man City midfielder Rodri misjudged the flight of the ball and handled the ball in the penalty box. The match official missed the incident and VAR incredibly went with the on-field decision. City held on to record a crucial 1-0 win in the title race, which they won by one point from Liverpool. PGMOL head Mike Riley later apologised to Everton stating that it should have been a penalty.

And What Happened In the Spurs V Liverpool Game?

There were three key incidents in this game that went against Liverpool in such a shocking way, that even ardent Manchester United fans were calling out the decisions by the match officials and VAR.

  • 1. Curtis Jones was given a straight red card for a foul on Yves Bissouma.

In real time, it appeared Jones went for the ball, but his foot bounced off the top of it and into Bissouma. He was initially awarded a yellow card. However, in the replays shown to the referee, the replays did not show the whole incident (Jones had been tugged back by Sarr, forcing him to stretch for the ball – which resulted in his boot going over the top) and instead solely focused on Jones seemingly lunging for the ball, with a focus on the contact between Jones and Bissouma. As a result of this evidence, the referee handed Jones a red card. A decision which almost every pundit felt was the wrong one.

  • 2. Luis Diaz goal was wrongly disallowed with the game at 0-0.

Despite being down to ten men, Liverpool were doing well against Spurs and it appeared as if they had taken the lead when Mo Salah played a lovely ball through to Luis Diaz, who fired low into the bottom corner to put Liverpool 1-0 up. The linesman however, had his flag up to rule the goal out for offside. The VAR picture showed that Diaz was clearly onside, without the need for lines to be drawn and the VAR should have overturned the on-field decision. Instead, Darren England assumed the goal had been given and said the on field decision was correct and the goal was chalked off by the referee who assumed that the VAR had seen that Diaz was offside. What is staggering is that the VAR and Referee then didn’t communicate to put the decision right in the seconds thereafter.

  • 3.Diogo Jota awarded two yellow cards for barely innocuous challenges.

Liverpool substitute Diogo Jota was then given two yellow cards in quick succession for two challenges that beggared belief. Firstly, Jota was yellow carded after Bissouma ran away from him with the ball and clipped Jota’s knee with his heel. The Liverpool man made no attempt to bring him down and it was simply a collision. Jota then was handed a second yellow after another challenge which saw Udogie fall over his outstretched leg with virtually no contact. Again VAR did not intervene in either decision.

Here’s is what die-hard Manchester United fan, and fierce Liverpool-hater Mark Goldbridge had to say about what happened.

YouTube video
“Liverpool were robbed – Disgusting Officiating”

And others have also had their say.

YouTube video
“Oh No!” – Gary Neville’s Dismay at VAR

It is abundantly clear now that VAR is not being applied correctly by match officials, but it is clubs, fans and bettors that are paying the penalty for their incompetence.

The technology works when it comes to VAR, it is the human element in the decision-making process that is making a mockery of its application.

And until this is resolved, then the nonsense that we saw in the Tottenham v Liverpool game, as well as the others mentioned previously, will continue.

And eventually apologies will not be enough and clubs may well seek to recover any losses they make due to these incorrect decisions.

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