Why VAR is Ruining the Premier League 

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Hate is a strong word, but I wouldn’t say I like VAR. 

The introduction of video assistant referees has undoubtedly changed the English Premier League for the worse. With more officiating controversies than ever before, it is difficult to see how VAR will ever improve the game. 

Following the catastrophic VAR error in the recent clash between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, now is the perfect time for me to highlight the ongoing – and seemingly unfixable – problems with technology in soccer. 

What is VAR in the Premier League? 

Video assistant referees have been in the Premier League since the start of the 2019-20 season. They were brought in to help eradicate errors made by on-field referees, but the process has caused more problems than it has solved. 

The VAR automatically checks decisions made by the on-field referee, causing the game to be delayed. Here are the four categories of decisions that can be reviewed: 

  • Goal/No Goal – VAR has the power to allow/disallow a goal due to offside, handball, foul and other offenses. 
  • Penalty/No Penalty – VAR can award or overturn a penalty based on an incorrect decision, location of offense, and other factors. 
  • Direct Red Card – Denial of obvious goalscoring opportunity, serious foul play, violent conduct and other offenses. 
  • Mistaken Identify – VAS has the power to correct the on-field referee when there is a case of mistaken identity for a card. 

If the video assistant referee identifies a clear and obvious error made by the on-field referee, there are three possible outcomes: 

  • Decision Overturned by VAR – VAR can overturn clear and obvious errors such as offside decisions and ball out of play. 
  • Recommended On-Field Review – Referees can be advised to check the on-field monitor to review their decision. 
  • Referee Ignores VAR’s Advice – The on-field referee could ignore VAR’s advice if they are happy with their original decision. 

With clear guidelines in place, you’d think it would think that match officials would find it relatively straightforward to come to the right decision. However, more and more officiating mistakes are creeping into the game. 

VAR Controversies in the Premier League This Season 

We may only be eight games into the 2023-24 Premier League campaign, but we have already seen plenty of VAR mistakes. Even with “support” from video assistant referees, wrong decisions are being made on a seemingly weekly basis. 

Believe it or not, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), English football’s refereeing body, has already apologized for mistakes on multiple occasions this season. Let’s look back at some of the highest-profile VAR errors in 2023-24. 

  • Onana wipes out Kalajdzic in Man Utd vs. Wolves. On the opening weekend of the season, Andre Onana wipes out Sasa Kalajdzic in the box. The on-field referee didn’t award a penalty, but the PGMOL issued an apology stating that a penalty should’ve been given. 
  • Szoboszlai Wrongly Awarded Penalty in Liverpool vs. Bournemouth – Joe Rothwell brought down Dominik Szoboszlai in the penalty area, leading to a spot-kick. However, replays showed that Szoboszlai dived. 
  • Mac Allister Wrongly Sent Off in Liverpool vs. Bournemouth – In the same game as the Szoboszlai incident, Alexis Mac Allister was wrongly sent off. Retrospectively, an apology was issued, and the red card was rescinded. 
  • Akanji Offside in Man City vs. Fulham – Nathan Ake scored for Manchester City during their 5-1 victory over Fulham, but his goal should not have stood. Replays showed that Manuel Akanji was offside while blocking Bernd Leno’s line of sight. 
  • Havertz Penalty in Arsenal vs. Man Utd – Kai Havertz was awarded a penalty by the referee, but VAR overturned the decision after deeming it incorrect. Still, the original decision should have stood because the referee didn’t make a clear and obvious error. 
  • Berge Handball in Nottingham Forest vs. Burnley – Burnley’s Sander Berge was accused of committing a handball offense in the lead-up to a goal, ruling out Lyle Foster’s strike. After the game, the officials admitted that Berge’s actions were legal. 
  • Diaz Wrongly Offside in Tottenham vs. Liverpool – Luis Diaz’s goal was originally ruled out for offside, but replays showed the Liverpool forward was onside. However, the VAR gave the on-field referee the wrong information and the goal was disallowed. 

The decision to rule out Diaz’s goal was so bad that many people, including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, have called for the game between Tottenham and Liverpool to be replayed. That tells you everything you need to know about the state of officiating in the Premier League. 

Why VAR Ruins Soccer for the Fans 

At the end of the day, soccer is all about the fans. Without fans, soccer clubs don’t operate. Loyal supporters spend their hard-earned cash on match tickets and TV subscriptions, only to be short-changed by referee mistakes. 

Fans go to games to escape the outside world for 90 minutes and go crazy when their team scores a goal. Now, the excitement of celebrating a goal has been taken away due to the fear of a VAR intervention. 

Supporters are reluctant to celebrate because they know that officials are checking every minor detail of the game. The video assistant referee is supposed to interfere only when the on-field referee makes a “clear and obvious error”, but that seems to have been forgotten. 

Granted, many fans were in favor of technology in soccer before VAR was introduced, simply due to the number of mistakes being made by officials. Despite the intervention of technology, however, we are seeing more errors than ever before. 

It is also worth remembering that the Premier League is the only English football league using VAR. Since the Championship, League One, and League Two are VAR-free leagues, some fans are abandoning the Premier League in favor of “proper football.” 


France’s 2018 World Cup Triumph: VAR’s Pivotal Role

Is VAR Here to Stay? 

Sadly, VAR isn’t going away anytime soon. Instead of scrapping the idea altogether, the Premier League and PGMOL seem determined to improve the process and make it work in the long run. 

If you haven’t already noticed, I’m not a fan of VAR. In my opinion, VAR is sapping so much enjoyment and passion out of the game, leaving fans with more questions than answers after each match. 

Ultimately, the Premier League is the most popular, most watched, and most exciting soccer league on the planet. With the world’s best players representing Europe’s biggest clubs, don’t you think that fans deserve better?