Updated: Jan 17
One match you love it; the next, it makes you want to throw your television across the room. That is the beauty and ugliness of VAR. With the many different implementations of VAR, being mathematical with its minuscule lines that decide the player to be offside or not, or more opinion-based and cloudy, there is more conflict than anytime before. The 2020-2021 Premier League season has seen 63 penalties awarded, and it is only the turn of the year. For comparison, there were 86 penalties all of last year. At this rate, there will be close to a 50% increase of penalties from the previous season to this season. The game of football has become a stop-start sport similar to American sports. It used to be a free-flowing 90 minutes with the controversy of wrongly called penalties, offsides, red cards, etc. VAR is not all bad, though. There are obvious errors that the referees on the pitch have made that have been rightly corrected every match, which helps the game tremendously. Clear dives and misjudgments by the linesmen have been taken out of the game due to reviewing everything across the 90 minutes.
The headlining story of this Premier League season is that it seems like a penalty decides every game. There have only been 17 out of the 63 penalties this year that have been given through VAR use, but there is a mood that seems like, due to the new rule changes surrounding handball and other fouls, the referees are giving more penalties and being softer on many penalty incidents, not hesitating to point to the spot. The handball rule at the beginning of the season was chaos, to say the least. A player’s hand could’ve been in the center of your chest, and it would be called a handball. The ridiculousness of handballs that were called forced the F.A.’s hand to change the rule. Even though there is an argument for all 63 penalties called this year, it doesn’t mean that players across the 20 Premier League teams are being more reckless and unprofessional in the 18-yard box this year only.
There is a somewhat moral debate over the offsides rule for VAR because of how technical it is. Even after three different review angles (without the VAR lines) after your team has scored a goal, you are convinced that the player is just onside. Yet, when the lines are placed on the monitor screen, you see that the arm hair on your striker’s right arm is ¼ of a millimeter offside. You are forced to accept the call because, in actuality, it is correct even though it is agonizingly minuscule. There is a dilemma with precision. I think that it is excessive to call someone offsides when it is so close that you can’t even see the difference on your T.V. or when it could be easily be called onside if the VAR operator moved the line to the left or right by one pixel of their computer. There is no point in that close of calls. If it is really that close that you can’t tell, it should be up to the referee on the pitch to go to the monitor and see it in slow motion without the lines visual and decide for themself what the call should be.
I believe that VAR has been generally helpful with full honesty, no matter how annoying it is, to the game and to keep everything fair, but some things could be changed that keep the game more fluid. The reason that most people fall in love with football is the intensity and non-stop play that happens every match, but when there is a three minute or more break every so often when someone scores or an incident occurs in the penalty area, it loses that attraction. The controversy is what we all love about football, and I hope that we don’t lose the beautiful game to becoming just another stop-start and referee obsessed sport.