Will Premier League Fans Ever Embrace VAR?

There have been many big changes to football over the years: the back pass rule, the offside rule, the three substitutes rule and the switch to three points for a win. But no change has ever been as controversial as the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee).

A welcome addition

At first, the move was welcomed. Fans were fed up with having goals disallowed when replays had shown their player to be onside or having goals awarded against them when the opposition player had been in an offside position. Then there were the penalties that should or shouldn’t have been given. VAR would prevent all this happening and produce fairer results over the course of the season.

No more bias towards top teams

There were even some who felt that VAR would act as some kind of leveller and prevent the top teams from getting favourable decisions. Who can forget the claims that Liverpool would be a mid-table side or even get relegated following the introduction of VAR? That somehow their second-place finish in 2018/19 was only achieved because of lucky decisions and dubious refereeing.

Early warning signs

One of the examples used to highlight Liverpool’s luck in the previous campaign was an incident in the game against Southampton when Mohamed Salah had strayed offside in the build-up to Liverpool’s equalising goal. However, although the Egyptian received the ball, his delivery was cleared and there were two more phases of play before Naby Keita scored the goal. The VAR centre later confirmed that the goal would have stood even with the introduction of VAR.

This incident served as a warning that, rather than remove controversy, VAR would simply move the target of the fan’s frustration from the referees to the VAR decision-makers. That goal would have caused controversy under both the old and new systems.

Fans turn full circle

This season has shown that, far from losing out under VAR, Liverpool have actually kicked on from last year and are now odds-on favourites to win the Premier League in the football betting. Some fans are now claiming that VAR is being used as a tool to help the Reds to win the title. This full-circle turn of opinion has been summed up by reactions circulating on Twitter.

Emotional impact

Beyond this, fans are claiming that VAR is killing the game. They are reluctant to celebrate a goal in case it is chalked off following a review – even if it is actually illegal. Where last season they were complaining that goals had been given when players were fractionally onside, they are now complaining that goals are being ruled out for being fractionally offside. Fans are now reminiscing for the days when we could all just moan about poor refereeing decisions and then get on with our lives.

One of the main reasons for introducing VAR was to remove doubt on factual calls such as offside. But fans now want to bring back that element of doubt and to give it to the attacking side. The harsh reality that offside means offside, whatever the margin, is hard to take when the technology starts interfering with the emotions of the game.

VAR may be here to stay but it may have to adapt and bring in new guidelines if it is to ever be truly embraced by those who go to the game week in, week out.