Forget Liverpool’s Premier League dominance, Manchester City’s European ban, or the decline of traditional superpowers Manchester United and Arsenal; VAR has been the major talking point in English football this term, for all the wrong reasons.
The system is littered with problems, whether they’re due to its incompatibility with the current laws of the game, an overall lack of transparency, or the general inconsistency of its application.
Here, though, are the three biggest issues surrounding VAR:
Fans left in the dark
VAR seems to be a concept designed without the fans in the stadium in mind.
It’s those supporters who spend their hard-earned cash to provide the atmosphere that the Premier League brand trades on, but they’re being left out of the loop as decisions are made at Stockley Park.
While progress has been made since the start of the season in this regard, it’s still a common complaint that you hear on phone-ins and on social media, and often fans have no idea what incident is under review.
If VAR is to win over hardcore fans, it needs to start involving them in the process.
Referees abdicate their responsibility
This was a point brought up very forcefully by Garth Crooks recently, but it’s one that needs reiterating.
Referees and linesmen are now hugely hesitant to make a call, electing instead to leave it up to the VAR in Stockley Park, and it’s stripping them of any authority over the game.
There is almost a sense that they would prefer not give a decision at all and then bring the play back minutes later, rather than give it initially and have it overruled.
And if that’s the case, then VAR becomes the referee, rather than a system to help the man in the middle.
The decisions VAR can’t overturn
One school of thought on VAR is that it should either be used for everything, or nothing.
Take the League Cup final on Sunday; Manchester City’s second goal came from a corner that should not have been given, after Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish’s block clearly rebounded off Ilkay Gundogan before running out of play.
It was an obvious blunder and despite Villa’s poor defending from the subsequent set piece, the anger stems from the fact that Stockley Park will have known it was a mistake before the corner was even taken, but under current guidelines can’t correct it.
While pundits often insist that VAR was brought in to eliminate the ‘clangers’, surely that’s a bigger error than a striker’s shoulder being half a centimetre offside?
Maybe that’s the overriding problem with VAR; that try as it might, there is just no way to make football 100% fair.
Yes, you can edge it towards a greater level of fairness, but at what cost?
Games paused for minutes at a time, confusion in the stands and forensic analysis of decisions that are essentially indecipherable.
Football is a uniquely emotional game that relies on its flow, rewarding instinct and imagination in a way that almost no other sport can match, and VAR flies in the face of those ideals.
And if there are still howlers, decisions continue to be made subjectively, whether that’s by the ref or the man in Stockley Park, and teams still feel the same sense of injustice as they did before VAR, then is it really worth the hassle?