Is ex-PGMOL chief Keith Hackett the only person of influence concerned about the recent humiliation of English referees? On March 9th he asked the following question on Twitter:
The English media hardly discuses it. Apparently nobody wants to highlight the fact that within a single year Mike Riley’s PGMOL and their Premier League paymasters have suffered two enormous blows in their efforts to delay and to dilute the use of VAR in the top flight. The victim has been English refereeing, once the gold standard of officiating worldwide, now humiliated and consigned to secondary status.
It is inarguable that the first significant defeat of the anti-VAR was the 2018 World Cup when video technology was implemented to international acclaim. Up to that point, during the 17-18 season, the PGMOL had conducted such an inept trial of VAR in the Carabao Cup that the big pundits and journos from mainstream media could easily dismiss it. Remember that famous quote by Barney Ronay of the Guardian after only the 3rd trial of VAR:
“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.”
Similarly, Alan Shearer during a Carabao Cup game in January 2018 between Chelsea and Norwich when VAR was used:
“I was very doubtful about it and now it’s a shambles….”
But the World Cup not only made fools of the so-called experts but forced the Premier League and PGMOL to retreat and give ground. They did so grudgingly and slowly. It took a series of high profile refereeing mistakes in both England and Europe last November to force their hand. Memories are very short in football but let me remind readers that after three months of post World-Cup silence about implementing VAR, in a matter of ten (10) days there was a complete revolution:
November 6th: Raheem Sterling’s stumble in the box vs Shakthar Donestk that was deemed a penalty is met with universal disgust and calls for VAR especially by Pep Guardiola.
November 7th: UEFA announces their intention to fast forward the implementation of VAR to prevent similar embarrassments such as Sterling’s “penalty”.
November 10th: Controversial game changing refereeing decisions in Southampton v Watford leading to Charlie Austin making a dramatic headline grabbing statement that the refereeing is a “joke” and pointing out the referees need the help of VAR.
November 11th: Chelsea vs Everton generates uproar when Kevin Friend failed to issue the required red-card to Jorghino for a reckless, studs-up, two-footer and later conspired with his assistant referee to not see Bernard of Everton swing a vicious elbow into the face of Chelsea’s Rudiger.
November 15th: Premier League clubs vote to implement VAR for the 2019-20 season.
Immediately after that I blogged the following:
“….this is the first major step in a long battle to make refereeing in the PL fair and unbiased. The next step is to ensure an effective, robust, transparent VAR is implemented. So far the tests of VAR conducted by Riley and the PGMOL indicate a weak and ineffective system is being planned.”
Another mortal blow to the PGMOL
Despite the anti-VAR failing to prevent its adoption in the Premier League, the PGMOL has proceeded headstrong, oblivious of its prior defeats, intent on implementing their own version of the video assistant referee outside of the FIFA-IFAB standard. As Rich detailed in his article for UFV, it was obvious since 2018 that the PGMOL is committed to VAR without a pitchside monitor:
“Last year I had noticed the monitors were not being used, and could only ever recall seeing them early on, in the third round FA cup tie at Anfield. It transpires this was the one and only time the monitors were used in the entirety of the trials.”
This is despite warnings from referee Hackett, that VAR without the on-field referee having a pitchside monitor is a gross violation of the Laws. On Twitter he explained:
“They are not applying IFAB criteria and they have not announced that. So Law 5 is been kicked into the long grass by them. The monitor is to ensure that THE REFEREE is the ultimate decision maker.”
It didn’t take long for UEFA to deliver their verdict on the PGMOL for failing to keep up with technology and the new standards of refereeing. On March 5th there was news that English referees have been dropped for the Champions League knockout stages, not a single English referee has been selected. A UEFA spokesperson told The Sun:
“For the knockout matches of the Champions League and final, referees with previous experience of VAR are being appointed”.
Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor, England’s two active FIFA referees, who were involved in the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition were not given a shot in the last-16 by UEFA as the Premier League does not use VAR. But, as if to pour salt in the English wound, while Slovenia do not use VAR in their league, Damir Skomina, the referee from that nation, was selected for a round of 16 game because he had taken charge in Saudi Arabia, where they use the system. Note, also, that while Oliver and Taylor were selected for round of 16 Europa League games, it has been argued argued they may be snubbed for the Europa League final, which will use the VAR system.
Remember English referees were also snubbed for the World Cup last summer after deciding initially not to use VAR.
What a stinging rebuke! How much longer can English refereeing afford Mike Riley and the PGMOL’s opposition to a robust, open, transparent VAR? How much longer can they defy the standards established by FIFA-IFAB?
As Ref Hackett and readers of UFV are fully aware, the vested interests that want to control how the game is refereed in England don’t care about fairness. But they are defying FIFA and UEFA who have much bigger franchises to protect, especially when certain international law enforcement bodies are trying to taint them with charges of corruption. Seems to me that as long as the PGMOL continue to defy both FIFA and UEFA standards Michael Oliver and other English refs will be frozen out of the top international competitions. It is about power, not fairness.