Ask The Ref : VAR – The Decisions That Caused Debate

From the outset it was always known that decisions judged by the VAR wouldn’t bring universal agreement – it was never there to bring utopia but as a tool to supplement referee’s onfield decisions that would right a clear and obvious error involving a match changing decision.

Since August I’ve seen numerous cases of the latter: penalties given referees couldn’t detect; red cards issued when an onfield position didn’t give the same view; goals disallowed that have struck the hand or arm resulting directly in a goal or creating an immediate goal scoring opportunity for a colleague.

Offside offences have been identified and goals disallowed and conversely goals given that would have been ruled out last season before the review system.

Let’s not forget though – offside is offside – there is no area for discretion. The guidelines are clear; you are either offside or not – there is no clear and obvious parameter attached.

Returning to the former where the VAR decides on a referee’s onfield decision will always see some decisions leading to much debate amongst managers, players, pundits and spectators alike.

The reason? Majority of these decisions are subjective in so much as the referee can make a decision you may feel is incorrect but unless it is a clear and obvious error the VAR cannot overrule him.

Some of his decisions checked may not be subjective and should lead to little if any debate – was it inside or outside the penalty area; was the ball actually played by the hand or arm; did the ball go out of play and return infield prior to a goal.

The subjective decisions are the most difficult to judge and therefore, by definition, lead to the most debate. If the images corroborate what the referee says he’s seen the VAR has to side with the referee – the reason? – VAR is not there to re-referee the match; its role is specifically as described above.

Let’s look at some of the decisions so far this season and why they generate much debate; I would advocate that in most cases the fact there is such debate would imply no clear and obvious mistake was made.

Leicester City v Bournemouth
Youri Tielemans makes a late and high challenge on Callum Wilson after the ball has gone. Referee Peter Bankes’ view was obscured and he allowed play to continue. At the first stoppage the VAR decided that Peter had not made a clear and obvious error and no action taken.

This challenge led to much debate – illustrating the subjective spectrum amongst different people – many felt red cad, others thought yellow and various others agreed with the VAR.

At present I feel this challenge would have been referred to the pitchside monitor. It may well have led to the referee dismissing Tielemans. That said, I feel even if the referee had taken no action spectators would accept more readily having seen the referee take ownership of the decision – as seen recently with referees going to the touchline.

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa
Jack Grealish goes down under challenge just outside his opponents’ penalty area, the ball breaks to Henri Lansbury who fires into The Palace net. Referee, Kevin Friend, had blown for an act of simulation against Grealish and disallowed the goal.

This is a complex decision and I’ll walk you through the three aspects:

1 The goal is irrelevant because the referee had blown to stop the game and therefore anything after that, except violent conduct, is immaterial;
2 The VAR can check if Grealish was actually fouled ONLY if the challenge occurred within the penalty area; it wasn’t and therefore the VAR is eliminated;
3 As the previous two checks are all the VAR can rule on it now reverts to the referee’s decision – which was simulation and yellow card.

This sparked much debate and when explained made people aware there will always be decisions the VAR can’t rule on – it’s NOT there to re-referee.

Leicester v Burnley
The ball is heading towards the Leicester net with Jonny Evans racing back to try and clear. Chris Wood is tracking him in an attempt to ensure a Burnley goal. Wood clips the heel of Evans unseen by referee Jon Moss and a goal is awarded.

As all goals are checked, the VAR identified the clip of Evans’ heel and advised Jon to disallow the goal.

Many people argued that the players were both running towards goal and it was a coming together. 

For me there was no intent whatsoever by Wood to impede Evans but the pictures clearly show the clip, which Wood’s body hides from the referee. It’s impossible, seeing the evidence, to not award a foul no matter how harsh it seems.

Manchester United v Liverpool
Virgil van Dijk challenges David de Gea as he attempts to catch a cross. v Dijk catches de Gea’s arm with him spilling the ball. Referee, Craig Pawson, allows play to continue and the ball is returned into the penalty area and a goal results.

The VAR decides, rightly in my view, that van Dijk’s challenge caused de Gea to spill the ball and a foul should be given with the goal disallowed.

Many people felt this goal should have been given as five weeks earlier Dominic Calvert-Lewin had also challenged de Gea and a goal given when Everton visited Old Trafford.

It was inevitable comparisons would be made – same ground, same goalkeeper, similar challenges?

I’m of the opinion the VAR ruled correctly on both.

Against Everton the ball is going past de Gea and he tries to aim a punch at it, it’s never in his control and I don’t believe Calvert-Lewin has any impact on the goalkeeper.

Van Dijk’s challenge is different for me, in so much as de Gea is about to gather the ball and loses it when challenged. He was in possession of the ball and lost it due to this.

These two incidents directly illustrate how subjective these type of decisions are – even now many many people will still differ in their views.

Chelsea v Spurs
Without doubt, in my view, the VAR decision which became the most widely debated.

Lo Celso overruns the ball and in attempting to regain quickly, lunges forward and catches Azpiluceta dangerously and with intensity. The point of contact was across the shin with studs and was checked by the VAR.

Watching live I was convinced referee, Michael Oliver, would be recommended to produce a red card and dismiss Lo Celso.

It was checked very very studiously and eventually cleared meaning, in the VAR’s view, no clear and obvious error had occurred and no action to be taken against Lo Celso.

Later that day it was agreed the VAR had made a mistake – he’s only human and would have taken much into consideration before arising at his judgement- and Lo Celso was guilty of seriously endangering the safety of Azpiluceta and should have been dismissed.

Five/six incidents which highlight that football is not an exact science and the subjectivity of many decisions will still engineer much debate.

In short – VAR will never be perfect in people’s’ eyes. 

However, it WILL correct many decisions we argued in previous seasons and continue to do so.







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