VAR: How video assistant referees will benefit the Premier League

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VAR in England - the story so far

The video assistant referee system (VAR) will make its debut in the Premier League next season so what can we expect?

We have seen the technology used at the 2018 World Cup but how will it work throughout a whole league season? What is the success rate? And will it stop managers moaning?

Who better to answer those questions and more than former Premier League referee Howard Webb, who was in charge of the 2010 World Cup final.

He has overseen the introduction of the system in Major League Soccer in the United States and, now general manager of the Professional Referee Organisation (PRO), he provides his thoughts on VAR.

Does it stop mistakes?

VAR will be limited to four types of match-changing incidents:

  • Goals - whether they should stand or not based on potential violations (fouls, offside, etc) in the build-up.
  • Penalties - whether the referee has made the correct decision in either awarding one or not.
  • Straight red cards - did an incident on the pitch receive the correct punishment from the referee?
  • Mistaken identity - when a referee awards a yellow or red card to the wrong player following an on-field incident.

"The obvious change is we have had fewer important mistakes," said Webb. "The ethos is to benefit the game without interfering with how it is played.

"In MLS, we have seen almost 100 errors rectified by the use of video review and those are errors that would have been significant because they relate to direct red cards, goals and penalty kicks primarily."

How will it affect referees?

There might be fears that on-field referees will become passengers in the game but Webb believes VAR will help make them better.

"They can officiate better because they don't have that doubt in the back of their head that they have made an error," he said.

"That plays on your mind for the rest of the match and if a decision affects the outcome of the game you don't know until the end whether you have got it right or not.

"Now with VAR, within 10 to 15 seconds you get a colleague who has been able to check it and let you know if it was the right decision and then you can move on to the next one and not worry about the last one.

"That is a real benefit that people don't realise - that officials will perform better because they have that safety net."

Assistant referees will delay flags

When it comes to close offside decisions, Webb says assistant referees will "allow the attack to develop and reach its natural conclusion" before flagging for a potential offside.

"If they flag early and the whistle goes that attack stops there and then, and if the video shows it's a mistake, there is nothing you can do about it at that point," said Webb.

"The assistant referee's delay is crucial in the procedure, as it allows for the sequence of play to receive proper, accurate examination."

Will the fans know what is going on?

One of the criticisms of VAR is that the fans are disconnected from what is happening when a decision is being looked at, and this causes confusion in the stands.

At present, fans watching at home are aware of what is going on but those in the stadium are not able to see replayed pictures of a VAR incident.

"We are always looking at redefining the way we deliver the message," said Webb. "At the moment it can be played out on the video screens and hopefully that helps sell the process.

"We show the definitive angle in the stadium. I think eventually we will see referees announcing the outcome over the PA system. That is popular in the US. There are trials taking place to see how that would work in our sport."

Will it change player behaviour?

Violent conduct, diving and holding at set-pieces are all issues the game faces. So what about those instances?

"In MLS the number of red cards for violent conduct has gone up," said Webb. "That is because we are capturing more than we would before because things which have happened off the ball have been picked up.

"Over time players will become wiser to the fact they are being captured. Eventually, violent conduct will go down because players know they are going to get caught."

He added: "You will see over time a general move towards less simulation. I am not saying they won't simulate. In the moment they will still try and get an advantage and go down easily, but over time there will be a decline in players diving."

When it comes to set-pieces, Webb observed: "We are seeing less holding in the penalty area. You will see referees being proactive before set-pieces, warning players that fouls will be picked up.

"The VAR will look at it on the live video feed and see it and then have the benefit of a delayed feed if they want a second look. It will only be given for an unequivocal foul, not for jostling."

Does VAR stop managers moaning?

There are those managers who love the diversionary tactic of blaming officials to take the focus away from the performance of their team. Surely, VAR will help put a stop to that?

Webb said: "In MLS we have had well over 1,000 goals this season and we have worked out that only three should have been disallowed. There is a comfort level that if a goal is scored it is going to get checked and if there is a clear error that will be dealt with, so that has to give people comfort that it will get rectified.

"We still get comments from managers about why things weren't reviewed and things like that, but nearly two years in now there is a greater level of acceptance.

"Most people support the use of it. They know that the chance of their team conceding a goal that should clearly not stand has all but been eliminated.

"We still get some criticism because it doesn't always arrive at the outcome some people want because of subjectivity, but generally speaking people are supporting it."

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