After Spurs v Liverpool controversy, do USA hold the secret to solving VAR issues?

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Is there an alternative option to be considered following the controversial decision in Liverpool’s defeat at Premier League rivals Spurs?

It has proved to be one of the most discussed decisions in the Premier League this season and the row has rumbled on over 48 hours after the incident.

Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur should be remembered for a remarkable defensive display from the nine-man Reds and a heartbreaking late own goal from Joel Matip that helped Ange Postecoglou’s side continue their impressive start to life under the former Celtic manager.

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However, a mistake by the match officials that saw a ‘goal’ from Liverpool forward Luis Diaz incorrectly ruled out has provoked debate and discussion in a way other controversial calls across the season have not.

The Colombia international was ruled to be offside when he found the net from a Mo Salah pass - but the VAR officials failed to overturn the on-field decision when video evidence proved Diaz was onside. A lapse in concentration and a breakdown in communication between VAR official Darren England and on-field referee Simon Hooper has led to the incorrect decision being implemented and that left Liverpool furious.

The decision has provoked much debate across the media, with former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher stating the blame lies with VAR official Darren England as he revealed the situation had left him ‘stunned’.

He told Sky Sports: “This escalates from an error from Darren England to having a colleague alongside him who should have also flagged it.

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“In a situation like this, I was stunned on Saturday. It’s the toughest day I’ve ever had at work on a match day. You’re trying to explain to people what’s happened - and second-guess what’s happened, because they’re in a different location to myself. That’s what I can’t process.”

Gallagher was far from the only person to have his say on the decision.

What did Jurgen Klopp say about the offside decision?

“I don’t think there is anything to say about the offside goal – I knew about it at half-time. In the first moment I thought it was clearly onside but you think they have a better view. I am pretty sure whoever made the decision didn’t do it on purpose. It didn’t take extremely long to come to the conclusion. That’s a bit strange but someone else has to explain.

VAR’s disastrous Liverpool error won’t be the last - human nature means the system will never workVAR’s disastrous Liverpool error won’t be the last - human nature means the system will never work
VAR’s disastrous Liverpool error won’t be the last - human nature means the system will never work | Getty Images

“The linesman thought it was worth watching again – that’s why he raised the flag. In the good old times, the linesman should have seen it was not offside because we had these situations quite frequently and when you see it back it is pretty clear.”

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What did the PGMOL say in the aftermath of the game?

A statement released on Saturday night read: ”PGMOL acknowledge a significant human error occurred during the first half of Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool.

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“The goal by Luiz Diaz was disallowed for offside by the on-field team of match officials. This was a clear and obvious factual error and should have resulted in the goal being awarded through VAR intervention, however, the VAR failed to intervene. “PGMOL will conduct a full review into the circumstances which led to the error.”

What did Liverpool say following the PGMOL’s statement?

“Liverpool Football Club acknowledges PGMOL’s admission of their failures last night. It is clear that the correct application of the laws of the game did not occur, resulting in sporting integrity being undermined,” read a statement released on Sunday afternoon.

“We fully accept the pressures that match officials work under but these pressures are supposed to be alleviated, not exacerbated, by the existence and implementation of VAR. It is therefore unsatisfactory that sufficient time was not afforded to allow the correct decision to be made and that there was no subsequent intervention.

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“That such failings have already been categorised as “significant human error” is also unacceptable. Any and all outcomes should be established only by the review and with full transparency. This is vital for the reliability of future decision-making as it applies to all clubs with learnings being used to make improvements to processes in order to ensure this kind of situation cannot occur again.

“In the meantime, we will explore the range of options available, given the clear need for escalation and resolution.”

What possible options could be taken?

For all of the talk about what could be done, the simple fact remains a human error was made and just as players make errors in games, so do officials.

This error lies in the process, poor communication and a misunderstanding, and although it is unfortunate it has impacted on Liverpool, there seems little can be done to rectify the situation other than by dealing with the individuals involved. That was put into action after England was replaced as fourth official for Sunday’s Premier League fixtures between Nottingham Forest and Brentford.

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Some have suggested the fixture should be replayed, which would be an extreme option for the Premier League to take and one that would be almost unheard of in the English game - but there is a precedent in the United States when a major mistake by the officials impacted on the result.

During a United Soccer League fixture between Miami FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds in October 2021, the match officials ruled out an own goal after ruling an indirect free-kick had gone past the Riverhounds goalkeeper without a second touch.

However, Miami’s Devon Williams had played the ball to team-mate Janos Lobe before his backpass evaded keeper Connor Sparrow before rolling into the back of the net. The goal was initially awarded before being ruled out and the game ended in a stalemate.

A league statement released after the game read: “Upon review of the Oct. 16 match, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) determined that an officiating error and misapplication of the FIFA Laws of the Game occurred in the 66th minute.”

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USL President, Jake Edwards, further explained the situation, saying: “In this instance, the match officials applied a law that unequivocally did not match the events on the field, and the ruling on the field exceeded the reasonable degree of human error that is inherently part of the game.

“This extraordinarily rare circumstance necessitated the decision to ask two of our Clubs to replay the remainder of a match with the score at 1-0.”

The 3AM Verdict

Replaying games, or at least a portion of them, does have a precedent around the globe but it seems highly unlikely this would ever be considered by the PGMOL and the Premier League. However, the controversy surrounding the Spurs v Liverpool game should lead to discussions over improvements to the VAR process.

In the interests of clarity and improved communication, surely allowing supporters in the stadium and those watching on television to hear discussions between on and off-field officials may well help deliver a more clear understanding of decisions.

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