The Video Assistant Referee VAR was introduced in the Premier League in 2019 to rule out any obvious errors that the on-field referees and match officials might miss. The VAR team officials are responsible for undergoing a review process through various camera angles to ultimately make correct decisions. This technology has been integrated with the goal line technology, which was implemented back in 2013. Now with all this technology and people involved, you would imagine that it has been a smooth sailing operation ever since its implementation; you couldn’t be more wrong.

Throughout this blog, we will be discussing the following:

  • VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate Guide
  • Premier League and the VAR system in play
  • The controversies surrounding VAR intervention
  • How can this technology be improved?

VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate Guide

VAR Glossary

Let’s have a look at some of the words used when talking about this technology and what they actually mean. The following are some of the most used words:

  • Check – This is a process by which the VAR team automatically inspects all reviewable decisions. A check can result in confirmation of the on-field decision, a change in the decision for factual matter or the recommendation of an on-field review process.
  • Clear and obvious error – Degree required for an on-field decision to be overturned
  • OFR – On-field review; review process that occurs following a recommendation by the VAR team officials. Used where a clear and obvious errors have been made in regards to subjective decisions
  • RO – Replay operator; non-referee official who acts as an assistant VAR by managing the broadcast and finding the best angles to allow for the right decision to be made.
  • RRA – Referee review area; area where an OFR is conducted, located adjacent to the field of play and in sight at all times
  • VAR – Video Assistant Referee; main video official whose main role is to check all reviewable incidents and recommend an OFR where a possible clear and obvious error has occurred. The VAR is a current or former referee.
    • AVAR – Assistant VAR; official that assists the VAR by watching the live action on the field with the VAR is undertaking a ”check” or a ‘review’
      • Offside VAR – AVAR official that anticipates and checks any potential offside situations in game-changing situations.
      • Support VAR – AVAR official that coordinates communication between VAR officials and focuses on the television programme feed.
  • Video official – Category of match official, alongside on-field officials. Consists of VAR and any AVAR’s
  • VOR – Video operation room; a room where the VAR team is located. The VOR can be located in or near the stadium, for the Premier League, in Stockley Park.

How did the idea of Video Assistant Referee VAR come about?

The idea of integrating a VAR system was conceived by the Refereeing 2.0 project in the early 2010s, under the direction of the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB). The system was tested through mock trials during the 2012-13 season of the Eredivisie, the country’s top football league. The IFAB took this new research into consideration and wanted to give qualified referees the chance to review footage and come to a factual decision. An incident that instigated such idea was the Thierry Henry’s handball that eliminated Ireland from qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Subsequently, live trials started all around the world to gather more data on this new technology and in August 2016 the VAR system was tested in a Major League Soccer game where it played a part in the decision to give a yellow card to one player and upgrading a yellow card to a red card to another.

The next event that VAR system was used, including a ”pitchside monitor” was at the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup. A decision was taken to award a penalty after an on field review. These trials have been used as a means for data collection to understand better what works and what doesn’t. After a long process of data analysis together with previous research a decision was taken to implement VAR in Europe’s top leagues. The Premier League after an extensive data analysis process decided to implement VAR from the 2019-20 season.

How does VAR work?

For subjective decisions, either the referee informs the VAR that a decision should be reviewed for the VAR identifies a ”clear and obvious error’ in one of the four match-changing situations and communicates this to the referee. At the next stoppage of the match, the referee will hold up the restart of play until a decision has been reached. The referee explains their decision to the VAR, and what they have seen from the pitch.

The VAR reviews the broadcast footage, using as many angles as possible. Real-time replays will be used initially to check for intensity. Slow-motion replays will be used to identify the point of contact. If the VAR’s view does not agree with what the referee believes they have seen ten they can recommend an overturn.

For this section we are going to take some Q&A from the IFAB twitter page where certain scenarios are played and are explained in greater detail to give the public and the players more clarity over the situation.

Q. The Referee awards a penalty kick. The VAR review shows that a player from the attacking team was guilty of simulation (pretended to be fouled). What is the referee’s decision?

A. The penalty kick is cancelled and an indirect free kick is awarded to the defending team. The attacking player guilty of simulation must be cautioned (yellow card) for unsporting behavior.

Q. May the referee undertake the VAR review process if – after a match-changing incident – play has stopped and been restarted?

A. No, it is not permitted except for (serious missed incidents)

  • A case of mistaken identity or
  • A potential sending-off offence relating to violent conduct, spitting, biting or extremely offensive, insulting and/or abusive gesture(s).

Q. The referee initiates a video review in relation to a red card offence. Is the referee allowed to change his/her decision after using VAR and show a yellow card?

A. If the referee decides after the review that the offence was ‘only’ a yellow card then the yellow card must be shown.

Q. A goalkeeper committed an offence while a penalty kick was taken and then saved a kick. Is the use of VAR allowed in this situation?

A. Yes. The referee may receive assistance from the VAR in case of offence by goalkeeper and/or kick at the taking of a penalty kicks.

Q. Is the referee permitted to give ‘no decision’ and then use the VAR to make a decision?

A. No. The VAR is only used after the referee had made a first decision (including allowing play to continue) or if a serious missed incident happen.

Q. A player committed a physical offence against a referee. How will play be restarted?

A. A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team. If any offence occured inside the penalty area a penalty kick needs to be awarded.

Q. When the ball is in play, a player leaves the field without the referee’s permission and pushes a ball boy/girl in an aggressive manner. The referee stops play. What is the correct decision?

A. The player is sent off (red card) for violent conduct. Play is restarted with an indirect free kick to the opposing team from the point on the boundary line where the player left the field of play for the offence of leaving the field of play without permission.

Q. A defender (Team A) commits a reckless tackle against an attacker (Team B) outside the penalty area. The referee is required to stop play, awards a free kick and calls the defender for a caution. Before the yellow cars is shown, an attacker takes a quick free kick and Team B has a clear goal-scoring opportunity. What is the correct decision?

A. The referee need to stop play because the disciplinary procedure had started and ‘distracted’ the offender who is unfairly out of position and unable to take part in the game. After the caution is issued, play restarts with the original free kick for Team B.

Q. A player starts a counter-attack and passes the ball to a team-mate who is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent. At the time of the pass, the team-mate is in their own half of the field except one extended arm that is beyond the halfway line. The team-mate receives the ball and starts running towards the opponents’ goal. What is the correct decision?

A. The referee allows play to continue. The hands and arms of players are not considered so the team-mate is not in an offside position.

Q. A substitute was cautioned (yellow card) in the first half for delaying the restart of play by the opposing team. In the second half, the substitute replaces a team-mate and enters the field of play after receiving a signal from the referee. Ten minutes later, this (new) player handles the ball to stop a promising attack. What action does the referee take?

A. The referee shows a yellow card and then a red card because the same person receives two cautions in the same match – one as a substitute and one as a player. The offender is sent off and must leave the vicinity of the field of play and the technical area.

Q. During the match, while the ball is in play, a coach (Team A) enters the technical area of the opposing team and attempts to strike the opposing coach (Team B). The referee stops play to deal with this situation. What is the correct decision?

A. The coach of Team A is sent off (red card). Play is restarted with a dropped ball (as outlined in Law 8).

Q. A player (Team A) commits a brutal tackle while challenging an opponent (Team B) for the ball. As a result, both players are injured and need medical attention. What is the correct decision?

A. The referee stops play and awards a direct free kick or penalty kick to Team B. Team A player is sent off (serious foul play) and has to leave the field of play for treatment (the red card must be shown before the player leaves). Team B player may stay on the field, if the assessment/treatment is completed quickly.

Q. At a penalty kick, the goalkeeper has one foot in front of the goal line and one behind it at the moment the ball is kicked. The goalkeeper saves the kick and prevents the ball from entering the goal. What is the referee’s decision?

A. The amended Law 14 requires the defending goalkeeper to have at least part of one-foot touching, in line with, or behind, the goal line until the moment the ball is kicked. Therefore, the goalkeeper has not committed an offence and the referee allows play to continue.

Q. Can the referee make a decision based only on the information received from the video assistant referee (VAR)?

A. Yes. Once the review is initiated, the referee has the option to review the replay footage directly. A VAR-only review is usually appropriate for factual decisions e.g

  • Position of an offence or player (offside)
  • Point of contact (handball/foul)
  • Location (inside or outside the penalty area)

However, with both a VAR-only review and an on-field review, it is the referee who makes the final decision, not the VAR.

Communication in VAR

It is important fans in the stadiums, as well as those watching on TV, are aware of what is happening on the pitch when VAR are involved in a decision-making process. If the VAR, who is constantly reviewing the match, does not agree with what the on-field referee believes he or she has seen in a match-changing situation, they can recommend an overturn. Play continues until the next stoppage, at which point the referee will hold up the resumption of play until a decision has been reached.

Graphics on big screens

The referee will point on his or her ear to indicate a review is in place. Supporters will be told of any VAR-related delay in play via Premier League graphics on the big screens in the stadium. The graphics will communicate the situation that is being checked by VAR and the final decision taken.

For clubs without a big screen, VAR communications will be made via a combination of PA announcements and messages on scoreboards. The on-field referee has the option to use the referee review area to view VAR incidents. When the review process is completed, the referee will gesture with a ‘TV signal’ and communicate the final decision

Digital Channels

In stadiums with big screens, if the VAR has been involved in changing a decision from the on-field referee, they may broadcast video clips to help explain what has happened. Premier league digital channels can be used to clarify a decision that might be complicated at the time, for example through the official Twitter account.

What is the difference between a check and a review?

In theory, a check is only a line of communication between the on-field referee and the VAR match officials to clarify an incident. This is generally a quick review process where players and fans do not even notice that it’s going on, whilst a review is a more detailed process.

  • Check – The VAR watches the replay of an incident before allowing play to continue. The referee will stop play by pointing a finger to ear and extending their other hand/arm to communicate with the VAR
  • Review – The referee might delay the restart of play — signalled by placing his finger to his ear — while the VAR investigates a possible offense. If the VAR believes an incorrect decision has been made by the referee on a subjective incident, the referee will watch the incident on a pitchside monitor to confirm that he will change his/her decision. A review will only be instigated by the VAR if he believes the decision is wrong. The referee makes the ‘TV signal’ and changes or confirms his decision.

What is VAR meant to do?

VAR is a new technology introduced to assist the qualified referee to try and take factual decisions in big moments in a game. The use of the VAR system should only be called upon to give assistance on clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents in four match-changing situations:

  • Goals
  • Penalty decisions
  • Direct red card incidents or yellow card incidents that can be upgraded to a sending off.
  • Mistaken identity

VAR can be used to overturn subjective decisions if a clear and obvious error has been identified. The on-field referee explains the decision taken to the VAR, and what they have seen and this is when a review process is conducted in the video operation room. Through the various slow-motion replays and different camera angles the final and factual decisions are taken. If the evidence provided by the broadcast footage does not accord with what the on field referees believes they have seen, then the VAR can recommend an overturn.

Some of the situations that the Video Assistant Referee VAR are not consulted with is if its a goal kick, throw in or an indirect free kick, in such circumstances only the referee can take the final decision. The football association saw some incidents in previous World Cup games, knockout stage of the Champions League or even the group stages that with the assistant referee system would have been overturned resulting in a team or club to remain in the competition. Of course the VAR system needs improvements, especially in the communication system as people are still unaware of what is being said in the review process, but more on that later on.

What does ”clear and obvious errors” mean?

If the VAR believes the referee has obviously misjudged an incident, meaning it did not happen how the referee describes, this is ground for a review and for the decision to be overturned. In such a situation, the video evidence will show how the action unfolded and the match officials are informed of it but only the referee can take the decision. Obviously, if he doesn’t go with the evidence given he would need to justify his actions. Due to this fact, the Premier League referees are being instructed to have a look on the pitchside monitor in the referee review area so he can have a direct line of communication with the replay operator and the correct decision taken.

Mistaken identity

An incident from the myriad of clear and obvious errors taken before the VAR protocol was when Kieran GIbbs was sent off instead of Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain in a game between Chelsea and Arsenal. The match official referee Andre Marriner sent off the wrong player and also it came into question if the offence was worthy of a red card in the first place. In the case of a mistaken identity, the VAR protocol would easily point out who was the offender and in this case send off Alex Oxlande-Chamberlain. This incident took place in the Premier League season of 2213/14, on Arsene Wenger’s 1000th game in charge of the Gunners.

You can watch the expert analysis that Jeff Stelling and Alan McInally did on Soccer Saturday as they witnessed this shock decision from the match officials.

Another incident of mistaken identity happened when Sunderland played against Manchester United. Radamal Falcao was in possession of the ball and he tried to take a shot on target but he was brought down by O’Shea with Wes Brown also putting pressure on the Colombian striker. When the incident happened the attacking team heralded the referee for a penalty, on which he made his mind up fairly quickly but he sent off Wes Brown instead of John O’Shea. With the new assistive technology this would be coined as one of the clear and obvious errors as the match officials failed to send off the correct player. You can watch the mistaken identity incident, here.

Can’t we just get all the decisions correct?

That would be the ideal situation but we are living in an imperfect world and we are asking for perfection. A decision taken will please some and will surely anger others as any decision taken is subjective. This means that even referees themselves will disagree on the correct call. What is a could to one person isn’t to another and that is certainly the case when fans are watching their own team. Everyone watching their team want to get the decisions in their favour and with stakes being so high in the Premier League a poor decision could cost a lot for a team and for a player. The technology is put in place to eliminate an obvious error from the qualified referee and to give justice on the pitch.

Why don’t the referees use the monitor more often?

Managers and pundits alike push for referees to go and have a look at the designated referee review area at his/her disposal. Whilst making use of the communication system with the replay operator to give him/her the best camera angles to get the decision correct. The rules in place do not allow for this to happen as the on field review process can only be done if the referee has made a clear and obvious error, ergo the VAR team has told him/her the decision is wrong and its recommended to have another look.

Premier League and the VAR system in play

All the England supporters in 2010 would have loved to have the VAR system and goal-line technology in place as they would have had a better chance of beating Germany in the knockout stages of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The ball had crossed the line by some margin but the referee waved play on. The technology that we have now has been designed to eliminate such serious missed incident to happen again, especially in a knockout stage game on the World’s biggest football stage.

We shift our focus on the incidents that if it wasn’t for the VAR it would have been very difficult to catch.

In August 2021 Liverpool played Burnley at Anfield. Just before the half-hour mark Liverpool scored through Mo Salah which the referee awarded. After a review from the replay operator, Mo Salah was judged offside by a couple of millimetres and the goal was scrapped.

In a game between Brentford against Wolves, a red card was shown to Toti which was later rescinded following the challenge on Kristoffer Ajer in the 68th Minute.

Another incident with respect to offside, was when City hosted Liverpool and these are the games that you need the decisions to be spot on as they could have huge ramifications. Raheem Sterling scored for City but was later ruled out for offside which when seen in the replay it was clear that he stood in an offside position.

Robert Sanchez was sent off after he prevented Callum Wilson a goal-scoring opportunity by tripping him just outside the penalty area. The decision by the referee was not to give a foul but after the VAR check, a free kick was given and the Goalkeeper was shown a straight red card as per the rules.

Manchester United faced Brighton in a must-win game and it was made easier for the hosts when Dunk fouled Elanga as the Swedish international was through on goal. The referee showed the yellow card but after reviewing the footage it was upgraded to a red card as Lewis Dunk denied the player in an attacking possession phase a goal-scoring opportunity.

Ismaila Sarr’s goal was allowed after being initially ruled out for offside against Josh King in the build-up. Watford played Norwich at Vicarage road when the attacking team gained possession and quickly found the space to let Josh King through some space. The VAR picked up on a trailing leg from the defender which played the attacker onside. These are the situations that qualify for a review and are coined a serious missed incident or clear and obvious error.

These are some of the incidents that each side in the Premier League had overturned. Data collection made it possible to show a table of VAR overturns with a net score for those sides that had the most overturns in their favor going down to does who were hit with disadvantageous overturns.

One of the season-defining moments in the 2018/19 season was made possible by the VAR and goal-line technology being used to their sparkling best. It’s again the two big teams in the Premier League in recent years, Manchester City and Liverpool. Salah picked up the ball in the middle of the park, played a neat one-two with Firmino, and played a perfectly weighted through ball to Mane who struck the ball which hit the bar, as the ball bounced off the post John Stones tried to clear the ball but he shot into his backpaddling goalkeeper which sent the ball again towards goal. What happened next will go down in history as one of the tightest calls in football. Stones managed to stretch back and clear it off the line. The referee on the day pointed toward his watch and the goal line technology informed him that it was not a goal. After that flurry of action replays showed that not all the ball had crossed the line. Such a tight call would have been impossible to pick up with the naked eye and that incident was one of great significance as Manchester City lifted the title by a single point. You can relive the action here.

In first place for most net overturns in the season 2021-22, we have Liverpool with +4 score and the team with the biggest negative score is Norwich with -6. Let’s see how the standing are for the other 18 teams. This data was collected by ESPN and you can read in more detail how this study took shape.

  1. Liverpool +4
  2. West Ham +4
  3. Arsenal +3
  4. Brentford +3
  5. Manchester City +3
  6. Southampton +3
  7. Watford +3
  8. Brighton & Hove Albion +2
  9. Chelsea +1
  10. Tottenham Hotspurs +1
  11. Aston Villa 0
  12. Crystal Palace 0
  13. Leeds -1
  14. Newcastle -1
  15. Manchester United -2
  16. Wolves -2
  17. Everton -3
  18. Burnley -6
  19. Leicester City -6
  20. Norwich -6

The controversies surrounding VAR intervention

Football is a very competitive sport and teams and players are always trying to find things that might give them the edge over the opposition. In previous Premier League campaigns, the title has been decided by a narrow margin and the final decision on giving a penalty or not in a game might prove costly to a team’s title hopes or to it’s ambitions of staying in the championship.

In this section we will go through some of the major incidents that occurred since the implementation of the video assistant referee (VAR) system in the Premier League:

Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United June 2020

Match Highlights –

In the first half, a free kick was taken by Sheffield United seeing a looping effort into the penalty area which Nyland couldn’t get under control. He bounced off off the post which sent him backwards putting the ball in the goal. The on field referee had a swarm of bodies in front of him so he couldn’t give the final decision, he looked at the watch which was connected to the goal line technology and no message was shown that it was a goal. The issue here was that the VAR system should have reviewed the footage as the match official and assistant referee on the far side did an obvious error, but strangely enough the VAR did not intervene. The match ended 0-0 giving Aston Villa a valuable point that ultimately saw them stay in the division.

Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United July 2020

Match Highlights –

United visited Villa Park in early July seeking their fourth win in four games in the Premier League. The major talking point came in the early stages of the game when Martial lost possession of the ball and Bruno Fernandes reacted the quickest and tried to make a pirouette which saw him fall down into a heap. The Portugese international stepped on the foot of Konsa, with the latter being a by stander in all of this but somehow a the match officials agreed on a penalty decision. This decision could have been overturned by the VAR team officials as Jonathan Moss decision was an obvious error. The clear and obvious errors rule seems to not always apply consistently and that is why many team officials and fans have questioned this technology and the International football association board as well.

Liverpool 3-1 Manchester City November 2019

Match Highlights –

A blockbuster game between two giants of the English football game and obviously it had some controversy. Virgil van Dijk got pressured by Kevin de Bruyne just outside the box and the Dutchman headed the ball into Bernardo Silva’s path, Silva drove into the penalty area and crossed the ball. The ball hit the flayling hand of Trent Alexander-Arnold with Michael Oliver just a couple of meters away from the incident. Play was waved on and Liverpool counter attacked and managed to score through a brilliant strike by Fabinho. The issue here is that the Video assistant referee was not called into action as it was a serious missed incident by the match official. Slow motion replays after the match showed that the final decision to not award a penalty was the incorrect one. Now the VAR protocol state that the review process can check any serious missed incidents within a 30 second time limit.

Crystal Palace 4-1 Leeds United – November 2020

Match Highlights –

Palace scored the opening goal when Scott Dan’s header clipped the post and went in. Reacting to going behind, Leeds piled on the pressure to find the equaliser. Klitch picked up the ball in a good attacking possession phase and played the ball to Patrick Bamford who chipped the keeper and made it 1-1. Slow motion replays in the video operation room showed that Leeds forward was offside. When drawing the famous line up, the video referees, started the line from Bamford’s arms as he was signalling that he is open and where he wanted the ball, which ultimately ruled out the goal. The VAR decision was questioned, obviously, as players where penalised for normal body language behaviours on the pitch and use of a body part that cannot be used to score as reference for an offside decision.

Arsenal 2-2 Crystal Palace – October 2019

Match Higlights –

A very entertaining match with both sides having good spells throughout the game where they had the front foot. Arsenal went two up after Sokratis and David Luiz scored from set pieces. Zaha was brought down in the penalty area by Mustafi, making it 2-1 and Ayew equalised for the away side after a back post header. In the 83rd minute, Nicola Pepe whipped in a dangerous corner which was flicked on by Alexander Lacazette, Calum Chambers scrambled to get the ball off off the two defenders, the ball fell kindly in the feet of Sokratis who drilled the ball in the back of the net for the second time that night. The Video Assistant Referees together with the match officials took the final decision to rule out the goal as Chambers trambled on a Palace defender which was deemed as a serious foul play.

Everton 2-2 Liverpool – October 2020

Match Highlights –

It’s the Merseyside derby and both teams go hammer and tongs to claim the bragging rights. Mane got the Reds in front early on. The big talking point followed as Van Dijk surged forward for a corner kick, the corner was poorly hit and it came back to Fabinho, he hoofed it up toward the big Dutchman and in an attempt to get on the end of it Van Dijk got clattered by Pickford who came out to block his effort. The challenge by the England keeper left Virgil in excruciating pain as it was later identified as an ACL tear. Liverpool players and manager wanted a VAR check on Pickford’s challenge as they deemed it as a clear and obvious error but instead the video assistant referees gave an offside against Van Dijk ruling the challenge irrelevant. In such a scenario the offside was not classified with the clear and obvious errors as no goal was scored and video referee failed to penalise the goalkeeper. Now such a decision was given more importance because of how big of an influence Van Dijk has on Liverpool and the consequent long term injury he suffered, which characterised the Reds season. Jurgen Klopp heavily criticized the VAR protocol as he felt his players were not protected even with video technology in place.

West Ham 2-1 Aston Villa – November 2020

Match Highlights –

A tasty encounter resulting in great action and drama late on in the match. Ogbonna climbed the highest as he nodded his side within two minutes of the start. Grealish equalised as he dribbled past two defenders and rifled it into the top left corner. Early on in the second half Bowen squeezed one in to put the Hammers back in charge but late on Villa pushed hard for the equalizer. A penalty was awarded which was missed by Ollie Watkins as he struck the crossbar. Ollie Watkins thought he redeemed himself when he side stepped the ball into the net from a Matt Targett cross. The Video Assistant referee got involved to check for a possible offside something the assistant referee on the far side did not catch. Once again the replay operator took Watkin’s arms as reference which saw the final decision rule out the goal. Should it have been a small portion of his foot, one would understand why it would have been ruled out but an arm, it’s not a clear and obvious error. Seems like the match officials need more clarity on what they need to look out for, especially in penalty decisions and red or yellow card infringements.

Brighton 2-3 Manchester United – 26th September 2020

Match Highlights –

It was a really entertaining game for the neutral, Brighton had the better chances but mostly found the goalposts in the way as they hit the woodwork on four occasions. The score was 2-2 as March equalised for the Seagulls in the 95th minute. United had one last chance from a corner kick, the corner was flung towards Harry Maguire in the penalty area, when the Englishman headed the ball towards goal and it was blocked by Maupay, the chance fizzled out and the referee sounded his whistle for the end of the match. The Video assistant referees informed the on field referee about the incident. The match officials then took to the on field review monitor where he overruled the initial decision and gave the penalty.

Crystal Palace 1-2 Everton – 28th September 2020

Match Highlights –

The third game of the season and Everton travel to a an empty Selhurt Park to take on Roy Hodgson’s Palace. Domnic Calvert-Lewin scored the opening goal which was than cancelled out by Doucoure from a corner kick. Later on two incidents occurred regarding a handball which required a video review, both on Joel Ward. The first incident was when Richarlison drove into the box, a couple of body faints his initial effort was blocked and then his second attempt struck the arm of Joel Ward. In the highlights we had a glimpse of what the refereeing team do behind the scene to reach the final decision. The decision was that it was not a penalty as Ward had his arms near his body and his body language did not suggest that he used his arms to enlarge his frame. Some minutes trickle by and again Joel Ward is again accused of handling the ball in the box. Luca Digne headed the ball down towards Ward’s arms which were a bit further away from his body. The referee stopped play and asked the video assistant referee for assistance. The on field referee was then asked to have a look at the monitor in the referee review area and he awarded the penalty. Both incidents during this game are subjective decisions as video replays when reduced the play to just a couple of frames it might remove the context of it.

Handball and the intervention of the IFAB (International Football Association Board) to clear out any doubts around this rule. This intervention concluded that it is an offence if a player:

  • Deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, including moving the hand/arm towards the ball
  • Scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental.
  • Creates a goal-scoring opportunity
  • The hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level

The above offences apply even if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from the head or body of another player who is close.

This new set of rules were tested when in late September Newcastle visited Tottenham. The score was 1-0 for the home side when a cross came into the box Tottenham box, Andy Caroll got to the ball first, obviously, and headed the ball into the arm of Eric Dier who tried to block the effort of the opposing player. It was given as a penalty to Newcaslte and some people have argued that when jumping for a header and you are on your way down, your arms are bound to stray away from your frame. In a debate done during Monday Night Football, VAR decisions were scrutinised especially penalty decisions. We will run trough some of the incidents to identify what is the anomaly in this rule.

There are more contentious var decisions but it needs to be pointed out that the referee (on-field referee) has to do the final decision after consulting the video assistant referees. Another instance where the video assistant referee system is called into action is when an attacking player is brought down or impeded and can be deemed as denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

A very hot topic lately which was sparked by David Luiz and Jan Bednarek controversially sent off during a crazy night of Premier League action.

David Luiz vs Wolves

Incident –

Arsenal were leading Wolves at the Molineux but a couple of minutes after Nicola Pepe found the net for the Gunners, a cog in the defensive machine went missing. The attacking team gained possession and Podence played a beautifully weighted ball in the path of William Jose but he was clipped by David Luiz who wanted to get himself between the goal and the player. The on-field referee pointed to the spot and the video assistant deemed it was a denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity which saw David Luiz dismissed. This also sparked an argument on double jeopardy where the team is already being punished on the penalty decisions so there should not be a red card to follow. The reasoning given for the decision taken was that after the replay operator reviewed the footage, David Luiz did not attempt to play the ball at any time.

Jan Bednarek vs Manchester United

A similar incident to the David Luiz one unfolded at Old Trafford, as Jan Bednarek clipped Anthony Martial in the penalty area preventing him from pulling the trigger. Current or former referee have pitched in this debate as they try to justify the var protocol and its final decision. This incident was overshadowed by the fact that Southampton on the night ended up playing with nine-men and shipped nine goals. Some fans called upon the incident causing such a heavy defeat. You can watch the debate here.

How can this technology be improved?

Well now we are looking in the future to see how the current technology can be tweaked to get the best out of it. What are some methods or things that the Premier League could adopt to make VAR better? Let’s explore some options:

Open Mic Refereeing

Now in other sports such as NHL video technology is accompanied by open mics so that the public and the viewers in the stadium could understand better what is being said and what is the thought process behind the decisions being taken. Now that would be something that if introduced in the Premier League would alleviate a lot of doubts that people have on what goes on behind the scenes.

NHL Open Mic: Officiating ain’t easy –

Through this video you can see the discussions between the match officials who saw different elements and have different perspectives of what happened discuss and ultimately come to a conclusion. The fans also appreciate this as they cheered and feel that they are involved. Another side of this is people would also hear the verbal abuse that referees are subjected through by the players and the commotion of play to appreciate more their work. Through this implementation of an open mic the game will become more transparent and referees will no longer be seen as the bad guys but as mistake prone human being like any other.

Offside rule Clarification

We often see skewed lines being drawn to help VAR officials make a decision if a player is offside or not. Some decisions have been taken that are impossible to catch with the naked eye and technically that is what VAR is there for. One of the many aspects of the game that is still unclear is the offside rule. Players are deemed to be offside even if they have their arm extended beyond the last man, which is something absurd in many football fanatic eyes. The idea behind this clarification is that the same rules regarding enroachment should apply to the offside rule as well. Let’s go into more detail shall we:

When judging enroachment, a player’s position at a restart has always been defined as the position of the player’s feet. However, following incorrect use of VAR triangulation technology to identify ‘enroachment’ by other parts of the player’s body e.g a player standing outside the penalty area but leaning forward so their head is technically inside the area, a player’s restart position is now included in the Glossary.

The restart position is now defined as – A player’s position at a restart is determined by the position of their feet or any part of their body which is touching the ground, except as outlined in Law 11 – Offside.

In this section we are calling for that part – Except as outlined in Law 11 – Offside – to be scrapped and the same rules apply when judging if a players is on or off. As we are pushing for clarity we must be clear as well from our end, when we say restart position this means the position of a player during kick off, goal kick, penalty kicks and corners.


Another idea to enhance the use of VAR and to reduce the time limit that the review process takes when checking an obvious error is to give match officials an iPad to carry with them so they can review incidents right away. This will in turn shift the main focus on the on-field referee as he/she would have most of the control over proceedings and he/she will be driving decisions. The VAR will still be in place as it is as there might still be called into action when there is a case of mistaken identity or serious missed incidents.

This idea might encounter friction from the match officials due to the number of things that they need to carry on their person whilst running the length of the pitch when required, but we are exploring ideas on how to improve the use of the technology in the Premier League.


Like any other change in life it will encounter strong opposition as people in general don’t like change. This feeling spirals from the issues that the technology have faced in the previous years and when compared to other leagues how it is being used. What is a clear and obvious error in the Premier League might not essentially be in the Serie A or the most important fixtures in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

An incident that had people scratching their heads was when Manchester United managed to pull off a dramatic win at the Parce de Princes in 2019. A shot by Dalot was met by Preznel Kimpembe’s arm which it has to be said, it was not far away from his body but the match official VAR team deemed it was a serious missed incident and awarded a penalty kick which ultimately decided the tie. Was that the right call or was that harsh to give? Take a closer look here.


The Major League Soccer was the first domestic league in the world to use VAR during the latter third of the season. In league games you would often see referees heading to the pitchside monitor to have a look at the replay themselves, which former Premier League referee Howard Webb advocates to give the man in the middle all the power in decisions and removes an aura of Big Brother. Another difference between the use of VAR in MLS is that they do not use the virtual offside line. This is due to concerns that the technology might not be equally effective at all league venues, including some that were built primarily with American football or baseball in mind.

A quote from Howard Webb’s comments was that ”Good officiating starts on the field of play. It starts with referees making good calls based on all of the considerations, and that feel for the game. And the VAR is there as a safety net, should the official not be able to make a good call”.


That concludes our deep dive into the world of VAR in the Premier League with all the positives and negatives that came with it. All the football associations have been vocal over the past months to assure that changes will be made in order to improve the game and the adoption of this technology. So hopefully we will bare fruit of these decisions.

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