Di Cunningham: Welcome to the brave new world of VAR
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
VAR. Noun vi.er/
Turns out it's three syllables not one - but what does it really stand for?
Notorious in its shortcomings recently at the Women's World Cup - Fifa had to step in, move the goalposts and get their lines redrawn on its use - the new film tech assistance for referees that is Vee A arR comes to Carrow Road this month.
One of the designated areas for the Video Assistant Referee panel's scrutiny is encroachment and movement during penalty kicks and in the elite women's tournament this summer, Scotland crashed out due to the overzealous application of the ruling, "the goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot on/in line with the goal line when the kick is taken". Ex-Lioness 'keeper Karen Bardsley felt it "cruel and pedantic" and the Premier League described these freeze-frame examinations and timing of keeper movement as "forensic", and have decided goalkeeper positioning won't be within the scope of the new tech assistance for referees in the English top flight.
So with some changes already made to the system introduced to Serie A, the Bundesliga, Ligue 1 already last year, what will be the ambit of VAR as applied to Norwich City games?
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On the hottest day of the year I went to a briefing at the VAR Hub in Stockley Park from the Premier League and PGMOL (the body that oversee professional game match officials). I've witnessed VAR personally at the World Cup and Nations League games and confess after the inconsistency in use, considerable addition of game minutes and diminishment of goal celebrations, I've been ambivalent about the new system. But the presentations were as persuasive as the air con was effective.
VAR will only impact these key match incidents (KMI's) - goals, direct red cards issued, penalties given and mistaken identity. The review will be mostly factual; 'Yes' or 'No' for onside/offside, foul in or outside the penalty area, goal or not, with potential also to review some subjective decisions - for instance whether a foul already given was reckless or dangerous.
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Underpinning its use are two principles: 1) has the referee made a clear and obvious error? 2) does the process offer minimum interference for maximum benefit? And each use of the system, decisions made and finally, post-judgment (and only when a decision is overturned) a definitive clip of the relevant incident will be shared with supporters. The referee is still the final arbiter but - again some movement of goalposts here from the original format - the official will not watch every incident on the pitch side monitor. As a rule they will rely on the panel's advice, but will need to review film of unseen serious foul play, for example, in the referee review area.
One of the most compelling arguments for introducing the panel of three (one technician and two qualified referees) to each EPL ground this season was shared at our briefing by Referees Manager Adam Watts: Last season there were 41 incorrect offside/onside decisions in the league and 31 of those were at crucial times where the teams were level or there was just one goal difference. In some cases those wrong calls were critical (for instance Burnley lost a game for an incorrect offside call and a goal disallowed against Watford). Going by the shadowing of matches by trial panels last season receiving VAR advice should improve Assistant Referee accuracy from 79pc to 95pc. There is still a learning curve for Assistants as the new machinery requires that if they're in doubt about offside they hold rather than raise their flag so inviting the attention of VAR. And equally if the referee has reservations about whether a goal should stand they withhold the whistle signal. I wonder if Mike Dean has perfected yet an OTT charade for non-puckering.
In a room filled with at least 60 screens, with headsets red and green buttons to summon and respond to the ref and under the supervision of top level ref Mike Riley, a few of us had a go at being part of a video assistant review panel - even as untrained rookies, in the brief time available we managed to grasp the principles and our turn-around time on decisions improved progressively. Apparently review time on average for KMIs by the panels in training has been less than 85 seconds. It was suggested playing time lost on VAR will not be added en bloc to remaining game time; this is my remaining reservation about the process. I wonder if we'll see teams preserve their position in future by exploiting a situation where there has been considerable recourse to VAR in the knowledge that, with time already heading way over 90 minutes, officials will not add on more minutes for play lost for other reasons.
I have a mild persecution complex that we have an inordinate share of poor calls from referees at Carrow Road based on the feeling that their torturous journey to Norwich understandably sets officials against us. So I'm looking forward to VAR ensuring more objectivity for all teams. And it's interesting to speculate on what would have happened had there been a VAR panel to assess Simon Hooper's disqualification of Cameron Jerome's bicycle kick goal against Crystal Palace four years ago - the lack of points from which might be said to have sealed our relegation in 2016. Maybe we wouldn't have the Webber-Farke dream team?!
Where will City finish? 14th
Who will win the title? Manchester City
Which three teams will be relegated? Burnley, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa