VAR in the Premier League: A bumpy ride ahead in 2019/20
"This is likely to be painful, until everybody gets used to it"
By Bryan Swanson, Chief Reporter
Last Updated: 09/08/19 4:37pm
The Premier League is gearing up for use of VAR in 2019/20 but what should players, managers and fans expect? Sky Sports News' Bryan Swanson takes a closer look at the game-changing development that has polarised opinion...
"There may be trouble ahead…" sang Frank Sinatra in the 1960s.
Nearly 60 years on, judging by this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup, you won't find much "love and romance" for Video Assistant Referees (VAR).
We've already had it in selected FA Cup and Carabao Cup ties - and we should expect a bumpy ride ahead in the Premier League.
Laws are laws, right? Well, not quite. It comes down to interpretation.
Despite its best intentions, VAR has polarised opinion. Add in questionable new rules on handball plus goalkeepers and penalty kicks and it could create a toxic mix.
As with most changes in life, communication is key.
Despite its perception, VAR never promised to deliver 100 per cent accuracy. It never aimed to destroy the essential flow and emotions of the game. It never intended to re-referee a game. The on-field referee always has the final decision.
On paper, VAR's philosophy sits neatly with the Premier League.
Mike Riley, the referees' chief in England, is passionately against lengthy stoppages. He has set a "high bar" before VAR is involved. Riley says he will not impose the tough line on handballs.
On penalty kicks, the Premier League don't want to use VAR when both goalkeeper's feet are just an inch or two off the line. They will leave encroachment to the on-field team, unless they have clearly missed it.
But how referees selectively interpret elements of the laws of the game is likely to cause further confusion. It's also likely to lead to growing irritation within the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the body that determines the rules. IFAB is made up of FIFA and the football associations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Do the refereeing heavyweights, and familiar faces, of Pierluigi Collina (FIFA), Roberto Rosetti (UEFA), David Elleray (IFAB) and Mike Riley (PGMOL) agree on everything? No chance - and VAR is about as contentious as you can get.
The Premier League remains on a collision course with Collina, the most powerful refereeing official in world football.
"The laws of the game are the same all over the world," Collina often says. Rules are rules. He's a staunch supporter of applying every law of the game to the letter and he feels VAR must be respected.
The Premier League will point to the stats. In live testing in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup, there were 14 reviews in 69 games over the last two seasons - roughly one review every five games. The average length of each review was 84 seconds.
A pitchside screen - the Referee Review Area (RRA) - will be used sparingly this season. The average delay using RRA is 90 seconds, compared to an average of just over a minute for a goal celebration.
IFAB are doing their bit to share the knowledge. A new free app, launched at the end of May, has already been downloaded 55,000 times. It was initially targeted at referees but will become the go-to app to settle pub debates around the country as the new season gets underway. What is "clear and obvious" may well prove easier said than done.
In IFAB laws, referees say there's always a degree of flexibility. Would a decision made in a European game differ from a Premier League match? Absolutely. Referees are consistently inconsistent on how they interpret some laws around the world.
Another area of inconsistency is how supporters will understand what's happening in front of them. Big screens will communicate overturned decisions.
But Anfield and Old Trafford do not have big screens, and there is no Premier League requirement for them to have any. At those grounds, a PA announcer and scoreboard will be used to communicate decisions with fans. Will it be as effective? Doubtful, but time will tell.
It's worth remembering that every Premier League club agreed to VAR last November. It is understood the three promoted clubs, Aston Villa, Norwich and Sheffield United, have not expressed any reservations over its introduction. Managers and club captains have had, and will have, the opportunity to understand it before the new season kicks off.
The slick VAR Hub at Stockley Park, near Heathrow airport, is delivering a steady stream of presentations this summer, including to the media. It's full of skilled, diverse, operators with a strong purpose to correct 'clear and obvious' errors.
But how long will it be before a manager or player becomes highly critical of it during a post-match interview? At least Southampton's Charlie Austin will be on board. At least to start with.
"You have to shut out the noise." says one experienced official in English football. "This is likely to be painful, until everybody gets used to it."
Will VAR lead to more correct decisions? Definitely. Will it be divisive? Absolutely. Will it disrupt the flow of the game? Almost certainly. Will it be a welcome addition to the Premier League? Let me get back to you. The jury's still out.
As Sinatra would say: "Let's face the music and dance."