Is it time to scrap VAR?

Published: Friday, 25 August 2023

‘I didn’t want to send him up because he is a mate as well as a referee and I think I didn’t want to send him up because I didn’t want anymore grief than he already had’. Mike Dean.

There we have it. The prosecution rests its case. There is nowhere for the PGMOL to go. I’ve said from the time it was introduced that VAR would cause more problems than it solved - because it’s operated by humans. More simply - by refs who aren’t good enough with a whistle so what the hell makes anyone thing they’ll be better with a tv monitor in front of them? And when the drop a bollock - they try to cover it up with all sorts of lame excuses. But now this. An extraordinary admission of what we all knew - but no-one wanted to believe.

A big ‘thank-you’ to Mike Dean for at last admitting it. But make no mistake, his words mean Howard Webb has a crisis on his hands.

Let’s put some context into this. The incident Dean is referring to happens in the game between Chelsea/Spurs last season. In added time Chelsea lead 2-1.

We all see Cristian Romero pull Marc Cucurella’s hair. Everybody watching except Antony Taylor (one of our top 2 refs) and his assistants. Dean sees it in VAR.

Harry Kane scores from the corner that’s been awarded to make it 2-2. All hell let’s loose. The goal should be disallowed, the corner re-taken and Romero should be sent-off for violent conduct. Who knows what might have happened after a re-take? Kane might score again - but justice would’ve done.

‘I missed the stupid hair pull’ said Dean when talking to Simon Jordan on his Up Front podcast. No you didn’t Mike - you saw it - you’ve already admitted that. You said you didn’t want to send a Taylor to the monitor because he was a mate and he’s already had a tough game. Ffs. What? I can’t believe I’ve written that again. Seriously - let that sink in. It’s an admission of everything I’ve been saying about Stockley Park, VAR and the PGMOL.

We broadcasters rely on info provided by a matchday centre when things like that happen. On that incident we asked ‘what happened there?’ I vividly remember what we were told. ‘Pulling hair on a football pitch is not violent conduct. No further action was required’ they told us. Pulling hair is violent conduct - as they later had to admit. So were they lying to us with their original reply or trying to ‘help a mate out’? And how many more times has that happened? Is covering up errors more important than the laws of the game and the correct outcome to a match?

I knew that pulling hair was violent conduct. We’d seen Ronaldo sent-off on his CL debut for Juventus for doing exactly the same thing. He tugged away at Valencia’s Jeison Murillo and saw red. Quite right. Romero should’ve gone.

At this point I should say that I like Mike Dean. He was a tough ref - not everyone’s favourite - not mine when he had a whistle - but he gave what he saw instinctively. And that might be the key here - instinct.

And well done Mike for admitting the reasons behind your mistake - but where do the PGMOL and the matchday centre go from here?

I’ve rarely believed anything that the matchday centre has told us about decisions - much to the frustration of many of my colleagues but how can anyone ever believe a word that they say now? They’ve got a real credibility problem.

It’s human instinct to try to protect a mate. Anyone that works with me will tell you that I’ve always insisted that refs look after each other. But it isn’t right.

I’ve also always argued that there is no way a junior ref would ever ask Michael Oliver (or Taylor) to go to a monitor and check a decision.

It’s happened once - but not since. Oliver was furious when he was asked to check a decision during the game between Forest and Bournemouth last September. He gave a pen when Lloyd Kelly handled. Although he was asked to review it Oliver stuck with his decision and later let everyone know how annoyed he was about being asked to check it. He thought he’d been undermined.

Oliver might not like being questioned - but if a review leads to the correct decision why not check it? But junior refs are scared of him so they tend not to go down that route.

So my point is that all the technology in the world is useless if it still requires human input. If somehow we could align VAR with AI we might get somewhere.

Refs have had a terrible time this season. They’ve made a shocking start. Howard Webb has had long enough to have had a positive impact - but I’m afraid they hasn’t happened.

He told us all the guys had had four days extra training in VAR so mistakes would be eradicated. Don’t make me laugh. It’s arguably worse. And why is that? One reason is because this group aren’t good enough. Nowhere near good enough - with a whistle or in the bunker. I remind you that we were the only European league that didn’t have VAR reps at the Qatar WC.

It’s no secret that I don’t like VAR - but I’ve learned to accept it because I couldn’t see the system being junked. Too much money has been spent to allow that to happen. And too many egos would be bruised if it did. Its advocates promised it would deliver a brand new world. Well it hasn’t.

But, following Dean’s admission, is it time to get rid of it? Has it delivered what we were promised? Has it stopped arguments? Do we get decisions correct now? No. No. And no would be my answers. So what’s the point of it?

I’m good with the CL off-side technology that was trialed at the WC. It works. It’s quick and there’s no arguments. In the PL we’re still messing about with lines? Why? It’s nonsense when a better system is available.

Technology works as long as humans aren’t involved - making decisions to protect their mates or simply getting it wrong and then relying on the matchday centre to dig them out of a hole.

I wish Mike all the luck in the world with his new tv career - but I think he’s now got a credibility problem. Sky have for a big call to make.