Express & Star

Johnny Phillips: VAR’s big success is in further muddying waters

Whether or not Wolves have been on the wrong end of VAR more than any other Premier League club is a contentious debate but certainly their supporters are growingly increasingly vexed by some key decisions.


The paying spectators filing through the turnstiles at Molineux this afternoon will be hoping that VAR does not intrude on their enjoyment any further.

A week on from Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope’s bodycheck on Raul Jimenez, there is still anger at what followed. Or perhaps that should be what did not follow as, inexplicably, Andy Madley was not instructed by the VAR to take a look at the pitch-side monitor and review his conclusion that no foul was committed.

In a different country, in different circumstances, a similarly bad scenario unfolded on Thursday night. AS Roma defender Rick Karsdorp was smashed to the ground by Real Sociedad defender Diego Rico during the second leg of their round of 16 Europa League clash in San Sebastian. The Spanish defender was shown a yellow card as a bloodied Karsdrop lay stricken on the turf.

Replays showed Rico clearly sizing up Karsdrop before dropping the shoulder into the Dutchman. If it was not deliberate then it was clearly reckless; a red card offence. Yet VAR did not intervene.

As my mate Dave pointed out on our Whatsapp group: “There is no reason for VAR to continue at all. Its use is as inconsistent as the level of refereeing.”

Dave was referring to the ridiculous penalty decision for handball which set Manchester City on their way against RB Leipzig on Tuesday night in the Champions League.

You get the drift here? This is not about Wolves or any other club. Nor is it about the human frailty of the officials who are doing their best to operate under incredible pressure.

It is about an extra layer of officiating which is just muddying the waters.

“Everyone would have given a free-kick for that if it was outside the box,” said Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on Super Sunday, during half-time at St James’ Park. Madley was a long way from the incident.

With no VAR he may have come to a different conclusion but, knowing that VAR was there as a back-up it was perhaps simpler – or safer – not to award a penalty on the field of play. On-field officials are refereeing with VAR in their minds.

Former referee Graham Poll waded into the conversation during the week.

“The Pope/Jimenez clash is a fascinating one and a great example of how confused VAR thinking is,” Poll said. “It is a foul and therefore a penalty and a red card for Pope as he is not making a genuine attempt to play the ball.

“However, replays in slow motion show Jimenez turning a shoulder and leaning towards Pope which could be seen as ‘clouding the issue’ and meaning the on-field decision isn’t a ‘clear and obvious error’ which can then be overturned.”

The application of VAR has changed over time, with the current directive in the Premier League appearing to involve less intervention. Again, officials cannot be blamed for following guidelines. They are already under pressure from the constant tinkering with the laws of the game.

The handball rule has been moulded into a particular mess, which is not helping anyone, as we saw on Tuesday night.

On the occasions that VAR intervenes in handball decisions, slow-motion replays misrepresent the situation and often lead to penalties being awarded when defenders have been physically unable to get their hand or arm out of the way of the flight of the ball.

No VAR decision should be made on the basis of a slow-motion replay because life does not happen in slow motion.

This is not a rant against progress.

With so many decisions being reviewed, a greater degree of accuracy is being achieved overall, but the price is far too high – long delays, frustrating interruptions, huge inconsistencies involving big decisions, and match time being lost.

For the television viewer there is enough information being shown to make this just about bearable but the match-going fan has been ripped off since the introduction of the technology.

Kept in the dark, with fixtures lasting longer but game-time shorter, there is nothing for the paying spectator to appreciate about VAR.

Advocates will always refer to the bottom line about more decisions being right than wrong but they are missing the point of watching live football.

The loss of that visceral immediacy of emotion – euphoria or despair – alongside the disruption of play renders any benefits redundant.

Spectators pay top prices in the Premier League and the enjoyment of the immersive experience of supporting a team from the stands has been steadily undermined since VAR’s introduction.

In a pre-VAR world, supporters would get frustrated at the inconsistency in decision-making from officials.

A complaint that was as old as the hills, and perhaps predictable given that our referees are only human.

VAR was hailed as a technological breakthrough that would help eliminate these complaints. It has not, because the technology is still operated by human beings.

All that has been achieved is an extra layer of inconsistency which continues to infuriate supporters.