Relentless action for 90 minutes is what comes to mind when one thinks of football. Of course, there’d be breaks in the form of halftime and injury layovers. But when the breaks are enforced fouls and VAR checks throughout the game, it gets frustrating. It also destroys the rhythm of the players regularly. Recently due to the changes in the laws and the referees, the game especially in the Premier League is getting smoother again without many interruptions.
Football is a contact sport and the fans are accustomed to it. The introduction of VAR has slowed the game down. The players are also afraid of lunging into tackles afraid of the judgement served by VAR. Inevitably, the game has gotten soft with some of the much-craved intensity lost.
🚨 VAR drama. Ref checks screen, gives 92nd minute penalty kick. Brighton equalize v Liverpool.
Robertson kicked bottom of Welbeck’s foot, who went down a few seconds later. There was contact. Foul anywhere else on the pitch? Probably. Very harsh. #LFC & Klopp fuming #BHALIV 1-1 pic.twitter.com/sVmqesgkfo
— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) November 28, 2020
Thanks to the recent reforms brought about by governing bodies, the game is slowly getting back to normalcy. Players can be more physical now without the fear of whistle being blown against them.
We look at how the refereeing has evolved in recent years and what’s changed again this season.
VAR- THE GAME-CHANGER
VAR was a revolutionary piece of technology brought in to assist the referees on the field. A referee hundreds of miles away would be on stand-by to interfere with the on-field proceedings if the need arises. It was successfully used at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The success of the pilot project prompted all the top leagues to use this technology for better results.
The rules were tweaked accordingly in 2018 and 2019 so as to incorporate VAR in all the top leagues throughout Europe. Though the rules were laid down, the leagues were given the freedom to interpret them according to their will. Hence a situation checked by VAR wouldn’t have a concrete final outcome or a unanimous one everywhere in the world. Few leagues opted to use this technology to a bare minimum so that it won’t interrupt games. But shockingly, the Premier League has gone all-in for this project as they used it vigorously.
There were many success stories for VAR in the first few games in the league. But slowly, the human part of the technology crept in as errors emerged. There was a lack of consistency shown by the officials while using VAR which was widely criticized. The offside rule under VAR could be said as one of the biggest drawbacks in the Premier League.
🏆 How are referees preparing for #EURO2020?
🎥 How will VAR be used at the tournament?
⚽ Which new laws are coming into the game?
Find out here: ⬇️
— UEFA (@UEFA) June 7, 2021
The league used to dissect the players to a hair’s breadth and draw micro lines to compare the defender and the attacker. Many a time, the benefit of the doubt was given to the defender as so many goals were ruled out. VAR weren’t clean on their part as they came up with absurd explanations. In the Merseyside Derby between Everton and Liverpool, Sadio Mane’s shirt sleeve was adjudged to be offside while ruling out his goal.
Also, many felt that the contact element of the sport is lost due to the VAR checks. The referees are often advised to use the pitchside monitors while checking for fouls. It is usually a slowed-down version of the real incident. It makes the challenge look worse than in real-time hence making it ugly. Many games were turned with controversial penalties or sending offs due to this. This process also takes a lot of time and impedes the flow of the game.
EURO 2020 LAID DOWN A MARKER
There were so many doubts surrounding the technology as we went into Euro 2020. It was the first time this was used in a Euro. Hence, almost all the decisions needed to be perfect in order to avoid controversies. True credit had to be given to UEFA for the way they handled the things during the tournament.
Through extensive training camps for referees, they brought in uniformity and consistency. They also made a resolution to not let VAR eat up time. The rule that impressed the most was the benefit of doubt shifting to attackers favour. All these things resulted in quick VAR checks within the minimal time possible.
⚽ “We are extremely pleased with the standard of refereeing that we have seen at the EURO so far.”
UEFA's chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti has given an update ahead of the #EURO2020 knockout stages.
✅ Fewer fouls
✅ Fewer yellow cards
✅ VAR working well
— UEFA (@UEFA) June 25, 2021
UEFA chief refereeing officer Robert Rosetti during the tournament said, “We want the minimum interference for the maximum benefit and we want to intervene (only) for clear and obvious mistakes.”
“We need to find the correct balance in the line of intervention because our target is to keep football like it is. It’s not acceptable to study all the minor pushing or pulling, or minor contacts and marginal contacts independently. The laws of the game are clear,” He added.
It could be said that VAR was a huge success at the Euros. It got many decisions right and there were no telling errors. These prompted other leagues across the world to take a better step.
GOOD OLD DAYS COMING BACK
The Premier League was under immense pressure after the Euros to change the usage of VAR. The board took a page out of UEFA’s book and decided to implement it. They began the process by having a dialogue with all the clubs involved. The board wrote to all clubs seeking the changes they wanted to see in the implementation of VAR.
This conversation can be assumed to be a grand success as we can see the results with our own eyes. VAR checks aren’t as time-consuming as they used to be. The referees are letting many tackles and challenges go under the radar. The players are now sliding into duels with renewed confidence.
Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl backs the Premier League's new and more lenient refereeing style after his side's 1-1 draw with Manchester United.pic.twitter.com/zK9TBI3x0X
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 23, 2021
Since the contact game is back on, there was a drastic decrease in the number of penalties. After 40 games, only 10 penalties are awarded this season with many of them being handball related offences. The referees are comfortably waving off nonsensical appeals by the players in the box. Many of these kinds were given in the previous season.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) September 13, 2021
However, the controversy would still emerge as Reece James’ red card against Liverpool divided opinions. Also, Burnley’s James Tarkowski got away after a dangerous tackle on Richarlison despite VAR being active. In the same game week, Tottenham’s Japhet Tanganga was sent off for a similar cynical challenge.
It is a fact that perfect refereeing can’t be achieved even while using bleeding-edge technology and it needs some acceptance. While the standards have definitely improved, there is room for further improvement. But Premier League can rejoice as they can see glit-edged battles again with high intensity and minimum interventions.