Talking About VAR Takes The Focus Off Officials

In the wake of the match yesterday, I went to lie down in a darkened room. That didn’t calm me down much, so I did some mindfulness. That didn’t work either, with the passage of time being about the only thing to make me feel a bit more grounded. I’d like to say that I’m disappointed with the response of Evertonians in the wake of the match, but it’s hardly a surprise. The desire to engage in whatabouterry rather than just criticising their players is a sad one, but it’s part of modern football. I’m sure an Blue reading this could send me screen grabs of Liverpool fans doing the same thing, but that doesn’t make it any better. The tackle of Jordan Pickford on Virgil van Dijk was little short of disgraceful. Regardless of how long the defender is out injured, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be quite the same again. Equally, the Richarlison tackle on Thiago was a potential career-ender and there’s no excuse for either of them.

It’s actually been many years since a derby has been quite so feisty and I’m surprised at the lack of criticism that has been aimed at Carlo Ancelotti for the way that his team played. Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané are equally as deserving of criticism for their own moments of snide, but at least they were more in-line with what you’d expect from a derby and seemed to be a reaction to how Everton were playing rather than intentional moves to injure someone. That being said, perhaps I’m just viewing their behaviour through Red-tinted glasses in the same way that I’m criticising Blues for doing in reverse. For their part, Evertonians will be aware of how many times they were on the receiving end of poor decisions from the Video Assistant Referee system last season. As a result, they won’t care that we were on the receiving end of yesterday, but my concern is that by referring to at as ‘VAR’ we’re letting referees off the hook.

’VAR’ Isn’t An Autonomous Machine

I have long felt that it should be referred to as the Video Assistant Referee System rather than simply ‘VAR’. It might seem as though that is the reaction of someone who would wear tin-foil hats and take the sim card out of their mobile phone every time they have a conversation, but the reason for my desire to talk about it that way is that we make it seem like some other-worldly machine by using its acronym. When we talk of ‘VAR’ making decisions, it gives the impression that it’s a machine rather than a living, breathing person. Let’s be absolutely clear about this, the Video Assistant Referee is simply a human being that has, theoretically at least, been through the same training as the man in the middle of the park. All they’re doing is watching an incident again on a TV screen and deciding whether a different outcome than the one decided on by the match referee or his assistants should have been made. It’s that simple.

We need to avoid getting into a pattern of making it sound like ‘VAR’ is a system rather than just a referee looking at a decision that has already been made (or not) by a colleague. It is open to the same human fallibility as relying on the referee making the call in the first place, up to and including the fact that the Video Assistant Referee might be wary of correcting a decision made by a friend. Michael Oliver is one of the best referees in the country and is certainly more experienced and able than David Coote, so it’s hardly a surprise that the latter was wary of overruling the former at Goodison Park. Add to that the fact that he’s got previous with Liverpool Football Club and is as human as anyone else that might let prejudice play into their decision making and we perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprised by what we witnessed in the Merseyside derby. It’s a man, not a machine and as fallible as all men are.

Its Use Let’s Poor Officiating Off The Hook

There is a video from yesterday that shows Michael Oliver looking directly at Jordan Pickford as the Everton goalkeeper poleaxed Virgil van Dijk. All of the focus being on David Coote means that Oliver’s decision not to punish the short-armed shot-stopper is going uncriticised. ‘Big Ols’ is, in my opinion, the best referee in the Premier League but he had an absolute stinker at Goodison Park. He needed help from his Video Assistant Referee and he very definitely didn’t get it. The fact that there have been conflicting reports on what the VAR did and did not look at surrounding the Pickford incident doesn’t help. Firstly we were told that he didn’t even look at the incident, then it was suggested that he did review it and didn’t deem it worthy of needing punishment. Regardless of which is the truth, it suggests either incompetence or corruption. Add in the decision to adjudge Sadio Mané as being offside for the ‘winner’ and it’s hard not to lean towards the latter.

Officials in England are genuinely appalling at their jobs. Yes, it’s really difficult to be a referee; most sensible football fans would be quick to admit as much. Yet too many of the men in the middle simply aren’t good enough. Whether it be Jon Moss, who is too unfit to referee Premier League matches, or Anthony Taylor, who doesn’t seem to know the rules of the game, few football fans are delighted to see the name of pretty much any referee officiating their match each week. The biggest mistake that FIFA made when introducing VAR as a concept was allowing the referees in each country to run it. The ones in ares just aren’t good enough to be trusted to use the system properly and the Premier League will simply bury its head instead of answering valid criticisms. This can be seen in the fact that they’ve refused to make the use of the VAR as transparent as it is in other countries. VAR isn’t to blame for anything. It’s just a tool being used by tools.

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