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VAR, properly applied, should provide significantly greater consistency on the big things, and there is some reason to hope that this could filter down to the smaller things, although the latter is mostly a hunch on my part. However, the big things would certainly do, or at least be a great start.
It should, for instance help ensure a referee like Jon Moss not red card Xhaka for the offence he did against Swansea City and then, months later, produce only a yellow for Everton’s Jonjoe Kenny for a similar offence which, if anything, was surely worse (Kenny chased his player for longer before his hack, and jumped in with more force).
Of course, even this is not as clear cut as we would like it to be, given that Moss may have changed his mind or, don’t laugh, been told by his bosses that he got the Xhaka decision wrong. So for the 2nd one he may have had a different opinion on what to do (in which case, bad luck Mr Xhaka but those are the breaks). Nevertheless, two very similar incidents within a season with the lesser one being red, the worse one yellow, from the same referee, should be a lot less likely with VAR in operation and being used by well trained experts.
Moss should have to consult the pitch-side monitor for big calls
With pitch-side monitor in place, unlike what is being proposed by Mike Riley, both incidents should surely result in a video review. Any time there is a challenge which is a definite yellow and possibly a red, this should result in the referee consulting the monitor. These are big calls. VAR rose from the need within the game to do better on the big calls. The best system for making the big calls when they have any subjective element – i.e. almost any time a red is considered – is allowing the referee to make the final decision (indeed the ref is supposedly the only one who is allowed to make that decision.
And so, with VAR being properly used, when those two incidents occurred Moss should have had to make his calls after going to the monitor. In that scenario it is far less likely he would be so grossly inconsistent by effectively producing the heavier punishment for the lesser offence. Even those who have the some belief in current PGMOL abilities should conclude that is the case. Surely this is how VAR should provide a sort of top-down consistency.
However, as things stand, it looks for sure that with the proposed VAR by the Premier League, the likelihood is such lamentable inconsistency will remain.
If we role play the Xhaka situation next year, using Mike Riley’s VAR:
- On the first of the calls Moss would produce his red and it is unlikely VAR would instruct him to overturn it because it would not reach their high threshold of a clear and obvious error.
- On the second, same outcome again. There is not enough to breach that clear and obvious barrier, so the decision stands.
Laughably therefore, we will therefore have the same ref being horribly inconsistent on very similar big, match-altering calls within the space of months or weeks despite video supposedly available to the referee so he can review the incident before making a decision. That is a lamentable outcome, farcical even. Yet this is how Mike Riley wants it to be.
When will Marcos Rojo be red-carded?
There comes a point where you have to wonder if, for instance, whether Manchester United’s Rojo only receiving yellows for clear red card challenges, is no mistake but a deliberate refusal to apply the laws of the game. It has now happened on at least four occasions, and may be more. The incidents are near identical: he lunges with real force, goes to ground with studs showing, makes contact with the opponent’s leg (shin or ankle), doesn’t get near the ball. Text book, easy red-card, every one of them. Yet the refs keep getting them ‘wrong’. Even the pundits, confronted with the video, have to conclude repeatedly that Rojo was a “lucky boy”.
How many would it take – 5, 6, 7- before it is fair to say it is more a case of not wanting to send the player off than missing what happened in the incidents?
In light of such blatant failure to appropriately punish the likes of Rojo, a properly implemented VAR should take the decision out of the referees hands completely. It would have to be flagged as a potential red card if the ref initially failed to produce one forcing him/her to look at it in the monitor. The scrutiny could not be avoided; Rojo would have to go. Not to send a player off after looking at it on the screen would generate the sort of controversy PGMOL dislike, even with our media being what it is. More importantly, it would make it harder to send off other players elsewhere for a similar or lower level of offence, because they too would occur only after a monitor check.
No wonder it is so important to not have a pitchside monitor. The inconsistency will persist and the Rojos of this world will remain free to cause havoc on premier league pitches, a permanent threat to the health and safety of opposing footballers.
Things to continue much as they are
Throughout refereeing history, the defense of inconsistency or mistakes on big calls has been an extremely solid one: tough job, with one view, from one angle, and the requirement to make a near instant (a few seconds, tops) decision, often one with a large subjective element. VAR has emerged, from the dissatisfaction which has always existed with many such decisions which the refs themselves admit were far from 100% correct. In the modern age most fans are aware that video review is available to correct most mistakes. This demand to use video has accelerated and immensely by the new age of televised games, internet, etc, as fans see the mistakes in real time and are aware they can be corrected almost instantly.
It is hard to conclude that this is a welcome development for PGMOL and the Premier League. If they wanted to use VAR properly, they would want each of those Rojo red card offences to result in a red. The pitch side monitors are easily the best way of ensuring that would happen and perversely this is the tool they are fighting hardest to eliminate. They appear to fear and dislike the consistency that would be imposed on them if the full blown FIFA-IFAB model of VAR is implemented. The Riley version, without the pitch-side monitor, with an emphasis on speed, and a high threshold for clear and obvious errors, will allow things to continue much as they are.