Go Mike Riley - and now.

Published: Monday, 21 October 2019

Enough. It’s time for a change. Mike Riley, head of the PGMOL, has got to go. VR is a shambles. As I always said it would - it’s ruining our game. It was never going to take us to the promised land of 100 per cent accuracy - it hasn’t improved decision making - it’s now worse than ever it was - and it’s Mike Riley’s fault. He should quit and let somebody else have a go.

Riley has gone out on his own - with his version of VAR - surrounding himself with ‘yes’ men who peddle his version of events to cover up an avalanche of poor decisions that are being made in the Stockley Park VR bunker.

Riley recently admitted that his team had made four wrong decisions this season. Four? What a joke. By the way, he wouldn’t have admitted to any had he not been called to account at a PL meeting. Once again this weekend there were more than four errors. There’s more than four every weekend. VR is a total shambles. I’m annoyed with myself because I promised I wouldn’t get involved in the debates But I have to say something now.

Here’s what’s eating me. Yes - you read correctly - I call it VR. In the PL it is just that. We’re refereeing games by Video Ref. Our version of the system isn’t an ‘assistant’ at all. Only in England are we refusing to let refs check their own decisions on a pitchside monitor. I’ve been consistent with this. We’re operating in violation of the agreed worldwide protocol. Why? Why hasn’t anyone questioned Mike Riley on this? It’s crazy.

Ok. If a decision is regarded as ‘a matter of fact’ - offside let’s say - fine, let the bunker decide. But - if it’s subjective - the match day official HAS to be allowed the opportunity to check his own call. Don’t tell me Martin Atkinson wouldn’t have overturned United’s goal had he been given the chance to see Lindelof’s challenge on Origi that he’d missed. Of course he would. But David Coote, VR operator was NEVER going to tell him he’d missed one. NEVER.

The problem here goes back to the FA cup 1/4 final at Molineux between Wolves and United last year - when Atkinson showed Lindelof red - only for his decision to be overturned by the VR operator - Chris Kavanagh. He deemed the challenge to be worthy only of a yellow.

At the next referees meeting Atkinson was furious and let it be known that he never wanted one of his decisions to be overturned like that again. Atkinson is regarded by the PGMOL as their top ref - so does he - and he was annoyed that his judgement had been questioned by what regarded as a junior official. Coote knew this.

Did the incident affect Coote’s judgement on Sunday? Only he can tell us. But here’s the irony - Atkinson over-ruled Coote at Villa Park on Saturday, when he was in the VR bunker, deciding that Villa’s Wesley had impeded the Brighton keeper Matt Ryan - a subjective decision. The subsequent goal was ruled out. Coote should’ve been allowed the chance to check his own decision. I know - because some of today’s officials have told me - that they’re more likely to alter their own decision if they see it again, than accept another ref making the call - especially if that ref is less experienced. Dean Smith, Villa’s manager, now openly laughs when asked about VR. ‘Embarrassing’ he says.

Bad enough that Atkinson didn’t like Kavanagh changing his decision at Wolves - we’ve got Championship refs in the VR bunker who’ve never taken charge of PL games. People like Darren Bond, Darren England, John Brooks, Jarred Gillett and Tim Robinson.

It’s madness. They’re deemed to be more able to operate the system than Lee Probert, who’s recently retired due to a back injury, or Roger East, who finished last season. Riley has decided neither is good enough to help with the VR operation. Explain that if you can.

What about the shambles at Spurs? Deli Alli knew he’d handled that ball when he scored Spurs’ equaliser against Watford. You could see it written all over his face. I believe             John Brooks, in VR knew it too, which is why the goal was originally correctly ruled out and the decision was displayed on the big screen. But Chris Kavanagh gave the goal. Why? Somebody apparently ‘pushed the wrong button’. Come on. I don’t believe that for a minute. It was handball. I suspect there was a communication mix-up. Anyway, Kavanagh should’ve been asked to check it - not leave Brooks to make the call. Incidentally, the handball law applies for the full length of the arm, up to the join of the shirt. Alli controlled the ball with his arm.

Here’s another mess of Riley’s making. Sadio Mane’s goal at OT was ruled out for handball - not that he knew anything about it. It wasn’t as blatant as Alli’s . I don’t like it - but that’s the way UEFA want it so I accept it. But in the PL we’ve got our own version of the law - had the ball brushed Lindelof’s arm and he’d cleared it - a penalty wouldn’t have been given. Why not? He clearly would’ve gained an advantage by getting the ball away. Mane would’ve been disadvantaged. In the CL the ref would be asked to look at it and I guarantee you he would give a pen in those circumstances. Not in the PL - we’ve got two versions of the handball law - one for defenders - one for attackers - why? Again- we’re the only league operating like that, because that’s how Riley wants it. It’s worth pointing out that there are not two versions of handball in the laws of the game.

What about the pen Watford should’ve had? That’s a massive call at 0-1. It’s a game changing decision. Who knows - a win might have resulted - a win that, come the end of the season, might just keep Watford up. This is what VAR was introduced for. Ask the ref to check it. Had Kavanagh, a more senior ref than his VR operator, seen it - again, I’m convinced he would’ve have given it.

And City should’ve had a pen at Palace. Not only was De Bruyne pushed by Zaha - he was kicked. Have a look at the monitor ref. Now do you think it was a pen? Rightly, Guardiola was furious. He’s even a VAR advocate.

So is Burnley’s Sean Dyche, but he was left bemused by the decision to rule out their equaliser at Leicester. Was Jonny Evans getting that ball? Was there anymore contact than Lindelof made on Origi? Was there hell. There was less. It was a goal - but VR said no. Look at it yourself ref. Now decide.

So far 89 penalty decisions have been looked at in the VR bunker this season Not one has been overturned. That’s impossible, but that’s so Riley can trot out his meaningless stats that they’ve got 100 per cent of those decisions correct. Nonsense. Absolute nonsense.

It doesn’t help that ‘yes’ men like Peter Walton, Dermot Gallagher and Chris Foy - sent into the media - cover up all the time. I don’t know Foy - but I do the other two. They’re good men - under instruction to toe the party line. Some of the things Dermot has said this season have been laughable.

Walton, in his column in The Times, argued today that there wasn’t ‘sufficient force’ used by Zaha on De Bruyne. It doesn’t say how much ‘force’ should be applied in the laws of the game. Either there was contact - or there wasn’t. You can’t be a ‘little bit pregnant’. Either you are - or you’re not. Walton obviously also missed the kick. Zaha caught De Bruyne’s left foot It was a pen.

Let’s not forget that we waited a year longer than at other league to introduce VAR because we were told Riley wanted to be sure it was going to operate effectively. Now we’re told ‘it’s a work in progress’. What? Managers jobs are on the line whilst this ‘progress’ is being made. Players careers. Fans support. And they reckon they might need seven years to get it right. Wow.

The time was that we would judge a good ref on how little we talked about him. Somehow they’ve elevated themselves to being the most important part of a game. How? Why?

I accept that TV is a lot to blame. I’ve said for years that I hated the culture of re-refereeing on Monday’s. That habit has helped bring us to the mess we’re in.

I know VAR is here to stay. I don’t like it - but I accept it. But why is it? I suspect the real reason is because it will become another way to make money. In Australia they operate with a sponsor. They’re looking for one in the US. It won’t be long before that happens in both the CL and the PL and then we’ll be fitting in the decision making process at least twice per half, to satisfy the sponsor. You watch.

Another thing. The technology isn’t 100 per cent accurate. Even Riley has now admitted that. So why are we ruling out goals where a big toe has strayed beyond the defensive line? There has to be an element of doubt catered for. Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do on a pitch. It’s what teams work all week to do. It’s what fans pay to see. Surely we don’t want goals ruled out by inaccurate millimetres? We want entertainment. We want goals.

Oh - and can anyone explain to me why there was only one minute of first half stoppage time at Old Trafford? A first half that included two lengthy stoppages for VR. This is another theme. Check it yourself the next time your team play.

Mike Riley has made a mess of VAR. That’s what it should be. Not our version - VR. Protocol states that VAR should be just that - an ‘assistant’, like the fourth official. It SHOULD NOT be making the final call.

Riley was appointed by Richard Scudamore, the PL’s former Executive Chairman, largely because he would do as he was told. Riley has surrounded himself with ‘yes’ men as well. It’s time he was made accountable for the shambles that he’s created.

Scudamore once had me sit with Riley, fawning all over him, because he thought I’d been too critical of his man - a man who drove Mark Halsey out of the game because he had the temerity to tell the truth about his time as a ref in his excellent book ‘Added Time’. Between them, Scudamore and Riley withheld Halsey’s £75,000 severance money by way of a punishment for writing his book. Halsey later mysteriously lost his job as a BT analyst. He’s now on his uppers paying a heavy price for his honestly.

Perhaps that’s why others refuse to contradict Riley. I don’t know. But I do know this - it’s time for Riley to take ownership of the shambles he’s created and go. The sooner the better.