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Manchester United and Premier League decisions prove why VAR needs specifically trained officials to man it

Dylan Penketh

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Manchester United and Premier League decisions prove why VAR needs specifically trained officials to man it

VAR was up to its usual tricks again on Thursday evening as Manchester United lost 1-0 to Real Sociedad at Old Trafford through a controversial penalty decision.

Calling it ‘controversial’ is sugar coating it, though… It was an outright disgrace of a decision.

Hand ball rules state, as per the BBC, that “if the ball hits a player's arm directly from the player's own head or body,” it is not a foul. At Old Trafford on Thursday, the ball deflected upwards off Manchester United’s Lisandro Martinez’s knee up to his elbow, and somehow a penalty was awarded, despite it being a textbook example of this rule.

The referee giving the penalty in the first place is understandable, as in real time it is hard to distinguish if it hit his arm directly or not. However, Massimiliano Irrati and his assistant Marco Guida, who were manning the VAR booth in Thursday evening’s fixture, had clear evidence in the replays of what happened, yet somehow STILL gave the penalty… It’s incomprehensible.

This is not the only incident VAR has come into deep questions for in the last week; there were a number of cases of poor VAR use last weekend in the Premier league alone. Newcastle United had a goal disallowed because Joe Willock was judged to have fouled the goalkeeper against Crystal Palace, even though it was a Crystal Palace player who pushed Willock into the keeper to start with.

Joe Willock is judged to have fouled Vicente Guaita, despite being pushed into the keeper. (Alamy)
Joe Willock is judged to have fouled Vicente Guaita, despite being pushed into the keeper. (Alamy)

Virgil van Dijk somehow got away with not seeing a red card after a horrible studs up challenge while playing Everton, Arsenal had a goal disallowed against Manchester United after Martin Odegaard made an admittedly soft foul on Christian Eriksen in the build up to the goal, with many making the point that as the foul is not ‘clear and obvious’, VAR should not have intervened.

West Ham also had an incident occur where Maxwell Cornet was denied a goal against Chelsea as Jarrod Bowen was judged to have fouled goalkeeper Edouard Mendy when jumping over him, despite minimal contact being made.

The most hilarious weekend decision though is by far and away Brighton’s disallowed goal against Leicester City. Brighton won the match 5-2 regardless so the call ended up having little effect on the end result, but it took VAR six minutes to decide if a player was offside or not… and they called the referee over to the screen to look at it.

That act of calling over the referee is a baffling decision because as offsides are a clear 'yes or no' decision, they are always checked, and if the VAR official cannot find evidence that there is an offside and and linesman did not call it as offside, then why is the referee looking at the screen? No referee should ever need at the screen before for an offside, and this instance cost Alexis Mac Allister a wonderful goal.

VAR is definitely at fault for these decisions, however they all have one theme in common: someone, a human, has mis-interpreted the rules.

VAR itself is just a system; a means of allowing referee’s to double check their decisions. What is actually wrong with VAR is not the technology itself, it’s the people operating it.

The point of VAR is to correct ‘clear and obvious’ errors made by referees on-field. This means cases of mistaken identity in red card scenarios, offsides, clear fouls/no fouls in the penalty area or obvious errors in the build up to a goal.

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However, the fact that it is being operated by referees who are used to being on the field and controlling the game leads to those referees calling any decision that they may disagree with as a ‘clear and obvious’ error, even if it’s a 50/50 challenge.

This is because as the referees operating the technology are used to their decision being the final and ultimate one, they will therefore always view their opinion on if an incident is a foul/red card/hand ball/penalty as the correct call, and therefore a ‘clear and obvious’ error if it goes against the on-field referees decision.

VAR, by definition, is an assistant to the referee – so why are those who are used to being the ones to make the final call the ones operating the system.

VAR should be scrapped until there are officials whose sole job is to operate the technology.

Just like there are those who are trained to be a linesman, there should be those who are trained specifically to be VAR officials and understand how to use VAR to compliment a referee’s decision making, not to override it at any given opportunity.

The technology itself has more benefits than drawbacks, but it is the people operating it that create the problems we are beginning to see so frequently, and that it where the solutions should be targeted… but while this happens, the technology should be discontinued to stop these hilarious errors in judgment and clashes of authority that cause more problems than they solve.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Manchester United, VAR, Lisandro Martinez, Europa League, Premier League

Dylan Penketh
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