Fans shouldn’t hold their breath. According to media reports, this weekend is merely a test of whether the VAR hub at Stockley Park, near Heathrow, can cope with decisions arising from multiple matches. The ‘live’ match scenario will be replicated in the VAR hub but there will be no contact between the team at Stockley Park and the officials on the pitch. As far as the impact on the refereeing at the matches is concerned it will be a “nothingburger.”
The PL and most of the mainstream media are making a great show of this trialing of VAR when FIFA has already proven that it can be successfully implemented. During the World Cup, at FIFA’s hub in Moscow, there was a team comprising the video assistant referee (VAR) and his three assistant video assistant referees (AVAR1, AVAR2 and AVAR3) for each game. All video assistant referee team members were top FIFA match officials. FIFA’s Referee Committee has selected 13 Referees, who acted solely as video assistant referees during the World Cup. In addition to the 13 Video Assistant Referees, some of the Referees and Assistant Referees selected for the World Cup Russia also acted as Video Match Officials during the competition.
Apart from the fact that the PGMO did not have a single referee at the World Cup, i.e. someone who would have benefited from the experience, they simply do not have enough experienced referees to properly implement VAR. Through Keith Hackett, former PGMOL head, we recently learned there are currently only 17 select referees available to the PGMO. He indicated that of that total, only two have any experience as video referees.
When Bobby Madley suddenly “retired” at the start of the season, Hackett expressed alarm at the current state of affairs. It was his belief the PGMOL are in ‘a difficult position’ where out-of-form refs won’t be given time off to recharge the batteries.
They have 18 referees now it’s down to 17. Roger East is unwell and is unavailable so now it’s down to 16.
They promoted two last season – Simon Hooper and David Coote – but it will take them two or three years to get a level experience to in the Premier League.
Some referees – Lee Probert, for example – are coming towards the end of their careers. It may be their last season for a couple of them.
This just leaves even more pressure on Martin Atkinson and Michael Oliver who are generally very, very good. Atkinson was probably the best referee last season.
There’s just not enough experienced referees and it’s because there hasn’t been enough succession planning.”
As many have often argued, as an affiliate of that multi-billion pound corporate behemoth known as the Premier League, the PGMOL has no one to blame but itself for the current state of affairs. According to news reports, for the domestic TV rights alone the Premier League’s last deal, agreed in 2015 and running until 2019, was worth £5.14bn. Clearly there is more than enough money available to the PL to incentivize amateur referees to become full-time professionals and to train and promote Select 2 referees to the elite ranks. Succession planning is the responsibility of those who direct and manage any business or organization and Mike Riley and company have failed miserably at this.
Unless the PGMOL upgrades the number of qualified referees available I predict this so-called trial will be a farce as was the last go-round.
Negativity By Mainstream media
In my opinion, last year’s Carabao Cup VAR trials was listless, lukewarm, and unenthusiastic. Given the typically luddite responses of most pundits and ex-pros to any innovation in football, not surprisingly the response in the English media was predictably negative.
Barney Ronay of The Guardian, in January, after only the 3rd trial of VAR by the Football League concluded:
The fact is, for all the expertise, the manpower, the money spent, VAR just doesn’t work in football. It diminishes the experience of watching in the stadium. It skews the game decisively one way. It is one of those ideas, like bendy buses, or communism, that would simply be better off abandoned.
Over at the BBC, where apparently most Briton’s receive their football knowledge, Alan Shearer was his usual profound self, as part of a panel of pundits reviewing a Carabao Cup game last January between Chelsea and Norwich. After a decision influenced by VAR, he was raging about the technology:
I was very doubtful about it and now it’s a shambles….
The Guardian, of all newspapers, had to rip him to pieces:
Even if the decision had been clearly wrong – which it wasn’t, but we’ll come on to that – Shearer’s reaction was childish and ill‑informed, and by his own admission – “I was very doubtful about it” – fuelled by prejudice rather than genuine analysis.
Being employed to have opinions does not mean he has to leap two-footed into them, studs up and full of fury. And by being so judgmental and so outspoken Shearer has unnecessarily brought the focus on to the VAR…
The World Cup Changed Everything
But FIFA’s 2018 World Cup implementation of VAR changed everything. As early as June 10th I wrote a blog expressing the view that:
VAR at the 2018 World Cup is the 21st century Russian Revolution. It is the football equivalent of “Seven Days That Shook The World” over 100 years ago. As happened in Europe and the world, for decades thereafter, nothing in football refereeing will remain the same after the VAR revolution at the 2018 World Cup.
This weekends trials prove my point. Once VAR had proven itself on the global stage, Messers Scudamore and Riley can no longer pretend or deny the necessity of VAR in the Premier League. Apart from the outrage by the football public, the broadcasters, who are now the PL’ss biggest source of revenue, cannot afford to carry a product that flouts commonly accepted standards of officiating. But without the requisite number of experienced referees to perform video and on-field duties, the current trials are in my opinion, an act of futility.
Think am overly pessimistic? Your thoughts.
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