Premier League referees take note! World Cup officials showed how VAR can be used effectively in Qatar – after switching to a more lenient approach mid-tournament… let’s hope for a ripple effect across the club game
- Premier League supporters will not be looking forward to welcoming back VAR
- The technology has divided English football since being introduced in 2019
- But World Cup referees eventually showed how to use VAR effectively in Qatar
- After initially getting involved too often, officials switched to a lighter approach
- Premier League counterparts should take note as they prepare to resume action
While Premier League supporters will be desperate to see the competition return on Boxing Day, there is one aspect they will not be quite so keen to welcome back.
Few issues have infuriated fans in recent seasons more than VAR. Since it was introduced to the Premier League at the start of the 2019-20 campaign, the system has divided English football.
Even where there have been improvements, controversy has remained, with borderline offside decisions and marginal penalty calls generating as much discussion as refereeing howlers did in the pre-VAR era.
Premier League supporters will not be looking forward to welcoming back VAR next week
But World Cup officials showed how the technology can be used effectively out in Qatar
It will be fascinating, however, to see how the World Cup influences the way matches are controlled in the rest of the campaign. Major tournaments usually cause a ripple effect across the club game and Qatar 2022 is unlikely to be any different.
A look back at the World Cup reveals two distinct patterns. In the group phase, VAR officials appeared to wish to scrutinise every single marginal call, leading to disputed incidents such as Japan’s winning goal against Spain (where the ball was initially ruled out of play), or Luka Modric lining up to take a penalty for Croatia against Belgium before the decision was overturned, or Antoine Griezmann seeing a goal against Tunisia chalked off after the final whistle.
Happily, there appeared to be a change of approach in the knockout stages, where officials governed with a far lighter touch. They stepped in only in the case of a ‘clear and obvious’ error, and hopefully the Premier League VAR teams will follow suit from Boxing Day.
There were some controversial early calls, including when Japan’s winner against Spain stood
Yet in the knockout stages of the tournament World Cup referees adopted a lighter approach
One shining example to Premier League referees arrived early in the tournament. Mexican Cesar Ramos was advised to look at the pitchside monitor after a corner from Denmark’s Christian Eriksen struck Tunisia defender Yassine Meriah on the hand. Even after watching replays, however, Ramos stuck with his original decision.
Premier League officials, take note. Because as things stand, as soon as a referee is asked to look at the screen, a reversal of the original decision becomes inevitable, no matter how daft it appears. That leads to an obvious question: who is in control of the game? The official in the middle? Or those at Stockley Park?
The World Cup was far from perfect, though. There was the farce of the Japanese winner against Spain, where the footage proving the ball was still in play did not emerge for several hours after the final whistle.
The semi-automated offside technology was supposed to remove controversy by delivering a higher level of accuracy… but where have we heard that before? Until there is a foolproof system for calling offsides, there will always be differences of opinion over the tight calls.
How different might Lautaro Martinez’s tournament have been had his fine early finish in Argentina’s opening game against Saudi Arabia not been chalked off for offside? Even with the semi-automated technology, the images still looked inconclusive. Instead of getting off the mark early, Lautaro’s tournament went downhill from there, as he missed chance after chance and was dropped for Julian Alvarez.
Premier League players will dread a similar fate at the hands of VAR. In the meantime, the rest of us hope the technology gives us a smoother ride between now and the end of the season.