Since the introduction of VAR into Premier League games at the start of this season, there has been just one subjective decision by a referee that has been overturned after consulting the technology. This, in 90 games, which is quite a remarkable statistic.
It came during Chelsea’s visit to Carrow Road to face Norwich City back in August, when Kurt Zouma’s goal was disallowed for a ‘foul’ on home goalkeeper, Tim Krul. The referee that day, Martin Atkinson, originally gave the goal, but changed his mind after checking with the VAR.
In the end, Chelsea won 3-2, which earned Frank Lampard his first win as manager, and meant that story dominated the headlines, rather than another contentious moment for the new technology.
Jump two months on, and Atkinson found himself in the storm of another VAR impacted game, this time between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford. Atkinson allowed a goal to stand for United, despite VAR checking a Victor Lindelof kick on Divock Origi in the build up to the goal; but this time the subjective decision of the referee was backed, and the goal stood.
Was it less of a foul than what happened at Norwich? At neither game did Atkinson go over and check the pitch-side monitor, which all Premier League grounds have. In fact, in all of the 90 league games played to date, there has not been one occasion when a referee has gone over to the touchline to review an incident on the monitor – a sight we got used to seeing in the World Cup last year.
When VAR was introduced in the Premier League, the interim Chief Executive, Richard Masters, said monitors would be used “sparingly”, but surely sparingly doesn’t mean not at all? This is a point that the Premier League accepts.
The concern over using the monitors was that it would add, on average, a delay of 90 seconds for each decision. This was seen during the Women’s World Cup in the summer, but those long delays were due to a lack of experience among the officials, and some language barriers.
In the 90 Premier League games so far, there have been 19 decisions overturned with 15 of them disallowing a goal, usually for the objective issue of offside. The other four decisions were deemed to have a “positive impact”, where a goal was allowed.
There has also been a re-taking of a penalty for encroachment, and three incorrect offside flags, but still, just one ‘subjective’ call, which adds to the perception that VAR is being used to endorse the officials, rather than make the correct call.
The Premier League will argue that it only wants VAR to intervene when there is a ‘clear and obvious error’, except that phrase itself is subjective.
The lack of use of the pitch-side monitors should be discussed at the next Premier League shareholders meeting, but they also need to focus on why only one subjective call has been overturned since the introduction of VAR?