At some point, football decided it was too important to fail and that is unlikely to change anytime soon; The VAR will not be discarded.
It doesn’t look like the noise is going to go away. Complaints about VAR and the standard of refereeing will be the soundtrack to the 2022/23 Premier League season as the game itself hurtles towards a point where it starts to become unruly.
It’s a tug-of-war between various vested interests, from philosophical views on what football should essentially be, to a culture that allows, and to some extent often seems to encourage, increasingly shifting reactions to the incidents that take place. for what it’s supposed to be. a game.
Since the start of this season, refereeing decisions have been under the microscope like never before. Social media is full of accusations of corruption and bias (of course, there is rarely any evidence of this somewhat charged language beyond the decisions themselves) and that the game is being refereed at a level of incompetence never seen before.
Well, that’s kind of hard to prove or disprove. The referees have always made mistakes and the fans have always been unhappy with these mistakes. It’s hard to quantify if there were more in the distant past, but what we can say with certainty is that blaming them has been central to the attitude of many in the game and, it could well be argued, in the game itself since its inception. .
But ‘the referee’s decision is final’ isn’t a phrase you hear much these days, and that’s almost certainly because it isn’t. Forty years ago, most games weren’t televised, so while the mistakes that happened on TV were amplified, you say the name. ‘Ray Tinker’ to fans of all clubs over a certain age and they will instinctively know who you mean; most were not seen by anyone apart from the few thousand within the field.
And during those intervening four decades, football’s surveillance culture has grown and grown. First, the matches began to be broadcast live. Then, all the matches were recorded and the goals were broadcast. Match of the Day, which began in 1964 with 45 minutes of match highlights, now features every Saturday Premier League match for 90 minutes.
The best moments of the matches have been shortened. There is more football, but appetites have gotten smaller. Incidents matter now, rather than the ebb and flow of the game itself. Broadcasters benefit from social media virality when their pundits say something ‘outrageous’, whether it’s insightful or just likely to cause annoyance.
The game seems to be coming to the arbitration standard as its biggest problem. Well, that in itself is obviously debatable, but let’s assume it is. Why could that be? After all, such claims are nothing new. For many years, it was assumed that the fact that the referees were amateurs was the reason. Professionalize them and standards will rise. This doesn’t seem to have worked.
The pace of the game has certainly increased over time, but there is little conjecture to suggest that the referees have not kept up. Referees have gotten younger and undergo regular fitness tests. They still tend to be older than the players, but that shouldn’t affect their own mobility on a field. It’s been known for some time that the assistant referee’s job is essentially impossible, but that was overlooked for decades.
The available pool of referees is shrinking. Thousands upon thousands are quitting smoking each year. The culture of abuse and the culture of tolerance of abuse have already had a tangible effect on youth and grassroots football. The question should be obvious: considering all the scrutiny and abuse thrown their way, well, your be a referee?
And VAR has not quelled the levels of controversy surrounding refereeing decisions. That is very obvious indeed. If anything, the focus has only intensified. This season, it has felt like almost every game was under a cloud of one decision or another that should have been made differently, or not been made at all.
Because on the other side of that bank of screens is just another group of imperfect and fallible human beings. But dragging them out to explain themselves after games doesn’t seem to make a difference. either. Those who demand this kind of thing often seem only one step away from saying they should be put in the stocks.
What went wrong is that football got to a point where he decided it was too important to start making the wrong decisions. But instead of looking at why this might be and whether these extremes (a match, for example, worth at least £135m, such as the Championship play-off final) could be toned down, football decided to try. to eliminate wrong decisions. during matches instead.
The introduction of VAR was a central part of that culture and was a fundamental change in the nature of gaming at this level. Since its codification more than 150 years ago, football has benefited from simple rules with room for interpretation, and that requires a certain degree of deference to authority, if only for 90 minutes.
And it feels like the game really just reflects society in a larger sense in this regard, with everyone in their bunkers throwing verbal grenades at each other, convinced that we’re right and everyone else is wrong, rewarding the most “scandalous”. ‘ opinions with the dopamine hit of attention, and leaving behind the same nuance that had served football so well throughout its existence.
Offside rules, which had been relaxed for years to benefit attacking players, have started to tighten up again. We live in an age of protractors, angles, and lines being drawn on the field. The continuous search for perfect objectivity has reduced the game to millimeter margins. ‘Well, either he’s out of the game or he’s not,’ has become a common refrain.
So what are the answers? Well, the game’s governing bodies have gone too far down the VAR wormhole that it seems hard to imagine them backing down, and requests for “respect” are met with increasingly cynical derision. In fact, if anything, it’s easier to imagine a world in which the arbitration of games is fully automated, at which point there would likely be considerable distress on the part of those whose meows had made this eventuality inevitable in the first place.
VAR is another step in that process, on top of goal-line technology, and UEFA has now started testing automated offside in the Champions League. How long could it be before sensors are used to apply the same uniformity to handball, free kicks, or both?
And of course no one will want this, because the argument is never Really about ‘coherence’ or ‘getting the big decisions right’. What it’s really about is that we as fans want every decision to go our way. You rarely if ever hear fans complaining about unfair or unfair decisions made against their rivals.
Perhaps it is built into the ego of organizations like the Premier League, UEFA or FIFA to assume that they could cure the game of all its gray areas, once and for all. There was a time when those bodies could have defended the gray areas of football, but instead they chose to divide everything into black and white. And look where we all are now.
The media also have a responsibility here. It should be the responsibility of broadcasters to ensure that their experts fully understand the laws of the game, as well as how they are currently interpreted. Those of us who write or talk about the game have a duty to understand what we are talking about. And those with reach must understand that their words can have an impact. The race to hyperbole must stop.
Should VAR be abandoned? Good, few seem to believe that it is working, and a considerable proportion remains for whom it is a fundamental tweak with the game too far away. But it seems increasingly unlikely that the Premier League will remove it while other leagues around the world, associations and confederations, continue to use it. The fall of the VAR of the Premier League would be, at the very least, politically inadvisable. and its use is expanding, not contracting.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t already been significant overreach in terms of how it’s used, that it hasn’t come to undermine the authority of referees on the pitch, and that it isn’t an even worse match experience. outgoing supporters than those who watch on TV. If it can’t be packed and turned off, then its use needs to be scaled back to match the promises that were initially made about how little it would disrupt the flow of games.
But what really needs to change is that football, and in a broader sense, society, needs a mindset change in many of its attitudes. A little less contempt would be a start, as would a little acknowledgment that perspectives other than those that benefit us personally are available.
Managers need to stop using referees as human shields and the media needs to stop pandering to them when they do. The Premier League must stop issuing these edicts by ‘interpreting’ the laws of the games in ways that seem to change according to the direction of the breeze. There needs to be more openness around the Premier League’s decision-making processes. Faith in the system needs to be revived. It will not be easy.
Arrigo Sacchi said that football is ‘the most important of the unimportant things in life’. Currently, some people seem to be forgetting the second half of that sentence. And with the current culture of abuse only reducing the pool of available referees and further drops in standards likely, this is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. Because if trust within football is completely eroded, the game itself starts to become unmanageable.