The Premier League VAR change that must be made impacts Newcastle United, Liverpool, Wolves and rivals
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If the Premier League wants to escape the storm of VAR controversy it currently operates under, perhaps it's time the onus of decisions was placed onto the players.
It's been a bumper top-flight season so far with Tottenham Hotspur looking tremendous under Ange Postecoglou, Liverpool resurgent after last year's blip and Unai Emery making Aston Villa real top six contenders. Elsewhere, Gary O'Neil is defying the odds at Wolves while Luton Town's historic Premier League bow continues. Yet, with so much footballing drama to marvel over, growing frustrations with VAR continue to steal the headlines.
While there appears to be a million different opinions on how to improve the technology, there is at least an overwhelming consensus from football fans: that is, as it is, VAR is a hindrance rather than a help.
In October, YouGov looked into football supporters' opinion towards VAR after PGMOL was forced to issue an apology to Liverpool for having chalked off a vital Luis Diaz goal against Spurs, which was not offside. Only 38% of frequent Premier League viewers believed VAR is working well but there is also a determination to get it right with only 16% of respondents wanting the technology scrapped altogether, despite high-profile pundits such as Arsenal legend Ian Wright leading calls to 'bin' it.
It's unsurprising to see the reality that 79% of fans want to keep VAR, with a huge 67% of those people believing it needs improvement. Ultimately, the technology adds even more drama to matches and, if used well, ensures supporters don't feel robbed of points by referee decisions.
Football should look towards other sports such as cricket and tennis for inspiration when setting about changing VAR. In those matches, technology regularly intervenes to correct human error but, for the most part, fans leave the grounds talking about the joys of Bazball or Carlos Alcaraz's monster serve to bring about Wimbledon match point.
It's poignant that in both of these sports, the onus is on players to initiate the intervention of Hawkeye. In Test cricket, each side has three unsuccessful reviews per innings and tennis players receive three challenges per set. Whereas in the Premier League, every big call made by the on-field referee passes through the eyes of VAR at Stockley Park, an average of eight per game.
In a weekend of ten top-flight games, that average tots up to 80 checks per Gameweek. Even if VAR was to be operating at a rate of getting 90% of calls unquestionably correct, there would still be eight controversial moments to justify week-in, week-out.
It's far from a tricky task to envisage what VAR in football may look like, if the sport followed cricket and tennis is assigning teams challenges.
In such a system, each Premier League side could be given two or three challenges at the start of every fixture to use throughout the 90 minutes. Instead of the pressure being on Stockley Park to intervene, the captain of a team could signify to the on-field referee when they wanted to send a decision for review. Immediately, more responsibility returns to the referee, who can no longer shy away from big calls knowing VAR can meddle - although offside and goal line technology, which involves less opinion, could be left to intervene as it currently does.
Such a system could bring about greater maturity from players too who, instead of rushing red-faced to officials and barking complaints, would be under a time pressure to have a conversation with their captain as to whether they truly feel a call was harsh enough to waste a precious challenge.
If a player was to dive or hit the deck under little contact, it would be audacious for them to risk losing one of team's challenges - which may be vital later in the match - to have VAR pour over the moment. Similarly, if a decision goes against a player who knows they have gone in late or that the ball has hit their hand, they would be unlikely to persuade their captain that the on-field referee has definitely made an error.
There are logistical problems that aren't posed to a sport such as cricket. When fielding, members of a cricket side are in much closer proximity than some may be on football pitch - it is feasible that a striker is fouled and a goalkeeper is captain, for example, with 100 metres of ground to cover before conversing. In cricket, players have 15 seconds to decide on whether to challenge or not whereas in football a slightly larger time frame may be needed.
While this could cause more frequent delays, the need for quick and clear communication between players is certainly not a bad thing and with VAR checks currently often taking over five minutes at a time, such a system may still add up to fewer idle minutes.
Another potential hurdle for a review-based system is the existence of the 'clear and obvious' guideline. While there is merit behind the idea, which gives referees greater power, that phrase could be scrapped. Referees would indeed already have greater authority if only questioned when sides decide to use a challenge.
How 'clear and obvious' could be a problem under such a system can be seen with a case study. For example, when Newcastle travelled to Wolves last month a penalty was awarded against Hwang Hee-chan for a challenge on Fabian Schar. Pundits unanimously agreed that Hwang had withdrawn from the tackle in time and was unnecessarily punished, but it's also reasonable to understand why even in slow-motion VAR could not determine the error to be 'clear and obvious' and warrant overturning.
If Wolves had a challenge to use, Hwang would have gone to his captain and assured him that he had removed his boot before making contact. As a result, a signal made, the decision challenged and set to Stockley Park. Currently, the outcome would not have been changed due to the 'clear and obvious' ruling.
New phrasing would need to be introduced to allow whoever is sitting in the VAR office to make their own, independent call on the incident, rather than only having a say in a 'clear and obvious' mistake.
Ultimately, it seems unlikely the Premier League and VAR go down such a road as they continue to look at what needs to be changed about the system. What is for sure, is that a cricket-influenced implementation would mean fewer reviews and more scrutiny on players' decisions to use a challenge, rather than Howard Webb and his VAR cronies.