Endless Var checks ruining game – 24 replays to recognise blindingly obvious

Referee Andy Madley looks at the VAR monitor before overturning a penalty decision to Crystal Palace
Andy Madley was called to the screen before overturning a penalty that had been given to Crystal Palace - Reuters/Hannah Mckay

You begin to wonder if the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, the presiding body of football referees, are actually trying to kill off Var as quickly as possible. Because every week they manage to come up with new and convoluted ways of making the system look ridiculous. Every week, instead of helping to prove what a beneficial invention this could be, they seek to make it ever more self-destructive.

Take Liverpool’s lunchtime victory over Crystal Palace. Really, we should be talking about the visitors’ late winner, which added further validity to the suggestion that Jurgen Klopp’s team are stalking down the Premier League title. But instead, attention is once more drawn by the blokes sitting watching their monitors in Stockley Park, doing their best to drain the excitement out of every game over which they preside.

What happened was this. Palace were awarded a penalty when Virgil van Dijk brought down Odsonne Edouard in the box. The referee Andy Madley was convinced it was a foul, and booked Van Dijk accordingly. However Var had noticed that in the build-up to the infringement, Palace’s Will Hughes had chopped down Liverpool’s Wataru Endo, an assault which Madley had missed. So far so good: that is what Var is meant to do, ensure proper delivery of decisions.

The problem was the time it took to sort out the error. From the moment of the first replay it was obvious Hughes had ploughed through Endo to win the ball but Madley was shown it 23 more times. This was as straightforward a foul as you will see. A quick and simple instruction to the referee that he had made an error was all that was needed. A beep of the whistle, a wave of the arms and back to the action.

But in Var land straightforward is a concept that does not exist. The foul had to be observed from every angle known to geometry. It was blindingly obvious but in all two dozen replays were shown to Madley. Worse, when they recommended that Madley take a look at his pitchside monitor, he spent three minutes reviewing the pictures.

That is the fundamental issue with Var: its processes slow everything down. So terrified of making a mistake are the video viewers, they just keep on checking, checking and checking again. In the stadium, those watching live are none the wiser to what is happening. Fearing that the decision might inflame the crowd, the patronising officials ensure they are kept entirely ignorant of what is going on. The players too have no idea. Sure, the managers on the bench have access to screens showing them the slo-mos on loop. But if they are like Wolves’ Gary O’Neil, a manager who seems every week to be on the wrong end of a Var decision, they would probably rather not look.

Thus it was at Selhurst Park that the home crowd grew increasingly stroppy. It was not the decision, when it finally came, to overrule the award of a penalty to their team that irked: it was the time taken to reach it. In a game as fast-paced as football, energy is drained by every delay. Momentum is killed, the joy surgically extracted.

The trouble is, it happens almost every week. At Craven Cottage recently, when Fulham played O’Neil’s Wolves there were four penalty decisions that had to be endlessly pored over. Each time the pause in action – unexplained, unrelenting, unending – meant a bit of the fun of being at the game was taken away.

No doubt the powers that be would argue this is the unintended consequence of trying to get things right. But the fact is Var is becoming ever more destructive of its own purpose. Do a straw poll of those at Selhurst and I suspect the majority would say they preferred the old system of referees getting it wrong to the endless prevarication involved in Var trying to get it right. And for Howard Webb, surely it is something he can quickly resolve. Just put a stop watch on every Var decision: come up with a solution within 30 seconds or do not get it involved. Is it really that hard?

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