VAR: Would Scottish Premiership welcome technology after Premier League issues?

A view of the VAR system pitch side during the Premier League match at Molineux, Wolverhampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday August 19, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Wolves. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
Image: A view of the VAR system pitch side during a Premier League match at Molineux

The implementation of VAR in the Premier League has caused widespread debate and reflection after several controversial incidents this season, so would the technology be welcomed in Scotland after a contentious start south of the border?

The use of the Video Assistant Referee, implemented in England's top flight for the first time this term, has dominated Premier League headlines and talking points, with new issues seemingly arising after each passing round of fixtures.

VAR checks failed to award a penalty for a foul by Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen on Watford forward Gerard Deulofeu last weekend, while Jurgen Klopp criticised VAR for allowing Manchester United's controversial goal to stand in Liverpool's draw at Old Trafford.

 1:12
Arsenal were subject to a controversial VAR decision after Sokratis' last-minute winner was ruled out following a foul in the build-up.

There was a further lack of clarity at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last weekend when Dele Alli's goal was seemingly shown as chalked off by the ground's big screen before the referee pointed to the centre circle to indicate it had been given - much to the bemusement of players, staff and supporters.

Arsenal then had a potentially match-winning goal controversially ruled out against Crystal Palace.

Fan groups are set to meet with the Premier League and ask for answers on how they plan to improve the communication of VAR decisions inside stadiums, with many supporters left unsure as to how and why certain calls have been made.

The Tottenham scoreboard wrongly says that Dele Alli's goal has been disallowed
Image: The Tottenham scoreboard wrongly says that Dele Alli's goal has been disallowed

Consistency was also an issue last weekend, with VAR stepping in to award penalties and disallow goals where the system had been seemingly unwilling to intervene in similar incidents in previous weeks.

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The technology is used - and used differently - across most of Europe's top leagues and in the Champions League, but is yet to be implemented in Scotland.

Scottish football is no stranger to refereeing controversies - in 2010 an unprecedented officials' strike led to the use of foreign referees for a round of fixtures.

Rangers made a formal complaint to the Scottish Football Association about referee Willie Collum
Image: Rangers made a formal complaint to the Scottish Football Association about referee Willie Collum

Last season both Celtic and Rangers released statements questioning the decision-making of referees after fixtures, while Hearts boss Craig Levein and then-Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke also queried calls made by officials.

Serious questions have also been raised over consistency from the Scottish Football Association's compliance officer, including in matters involving retrospective punishments.

Celtic were unhappy with referee John Beaton after their defeat at Ibrox last season
Image: Celtic were unhappy with referee John Beaton after their defeat at Ibrox last season

In January, SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell said there was an "appetite" for VAR to be introduced in Scotland after a meeting involving the majority of Premiership managers, compliance officer Clare Whyte and a number of referees.

So, having witnessed the early stages of VAR in England and the seemingly never-ending fallout and discussion around its use, would Premiership managers, pundits and officials still welcome the technology, or could it simply serve to add to what is already an intense and provocative part of the Scottish game?

The managers

Celtic manager Neil Lennon: "I don't get it, honestly. When it got brought in I initially thought 'is it going to be good for the game?' But it's killing the game at the minute. Some of the decisions made over the past week in the Premier League have been baffling to say the least. You know, you think of the Watford v Spurs game the week before, are they taking the decisions away from the referees altogether with what they're doing? Now they are bringing the TV screen in for the referee to make the decision himself which is probably the logical step. There are always going to be teething problems as we don't like changing the game too much. I think later on down the line it will be good for the game but I just think at the minute in England they are just over-egging it. It's killing the flow of the game and certainly some of the results."

Caption of VAR checking the goal 0:44
Celtic boss Neil Lennon says VAR is damaging the game by excessively intervening in the referees' decisions

Rangers assistant manager Gary McAllister: "When it was first put in place I was a massive fan but we are now starting to see the difficulties it's thrown up. I still believe in it but I think the referee in that particular match should go and use that facility on the side of the pitch. I think we appreciate how difficult a job it is and we have got to try and help them [referees]. That was what VAR was supposed to bring - to make it easier for referees to do their job, so we have to respect the referees. The beauty is now that they will hopefully iron out all these little problems before it lands in Scotland."

Craig Levein 0:43
Hearts boss Craig Levein is confident the Premier League will resolve VAR's 'teething problems', and believes the Scottish game could benefit from it

Hearts manager Craig Levein: "It's interpretation which is the problem, and I hear that they're maybe going to alter it slightly. One of the things that hasn't been spoken about, because we don't have VAR in this country, is now the best referees don't get some of the bigger matches. I do think that VAR does help the referee and I do think it is just teething problems [at the moment]. I think it will come at some point, it's just when we will make that leap. Maybe we're just waiting until England sort it out for us!"

The pundit

Sky Sports Scotland pundit Andy Walker: "I don't sense an appetite for VAR in Scotland, but I think the referees would love it. We are being left behind and I think if we want to have some credibility about our league and be serious about it then we should be looking at VAR. It's the way ahead - technology has to be involved in making big decisions whether people get relegated, win trophies, qualify for Europe or win titles. We should be making use of it - it's there. But I don't sense any great appetite right across the board in Scotland and I think that's a great pity.

"Can you imagine this season of all seasons? Celtic going for nine in a row, Rangers trying to stop it, and we have an incident towards the end of the season that might sway it one way or the other and with VAR it could easily have been cleared up.

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Andy Walker says Scottish football is being left behind with regards to VAR but does not think there is an appetite for it in Scotland

"I don't think there are too many clubs in Scotland who are willing to take a hit financially in order for it to be brought in. You've also got to look at the number of referees that are required to be in the trucks, on the pitch, on the side of the pitch. That's a big group of people. I've been to the workshop at Stockley Park and I understand the difficulties that VAR brings, so in Scotland we are a hell of a long way from bringing it in, if at all.

"We want our referees to improve and we have to be up to date and moving with the times. I think it is a great pity that Scottish referees aren't being exposed to VAR and aren't getting help from VAR. We are all very quick to criticise them but technology is there now to be used and the Scottish clubs should, I think, get together to make a decision to try to bring it in, try to train the referees up and we want our Scottish referees to be performing on the big stage.

"I think it will help their development in Europe and in international games and I think Scottish football clubs as a whole should seriously consider bringing VAR in because if they make a decision now it might be a couple of years before it is brought in.

Martin Atkinson signals handball after VAR rules out Sadio Mane's goal
Image: Martin Atkinson signals handball after VAR rules out Sadio Mane's goal against Manchester United

"I hope they get together to make a decision, I think VAR is part of the future. It has not worked all the time in England, but you've got to remember that this is year one and you're going to make mistakes. I think in time it will improve and will be beneficial to all the players, the clubs and, ultimately, the referees as well."

Governing bodies

SPFL

The Scottish Professional Football League say it is still assessing the use of the technology.

An SPFL spokesperson said: "There are a number of factors to consider when assessing the suitability and affordability of IFAB compliant VAR to Scottish football competitions. We are working with our member clubs and the Scottish FA to ensure that any decisions that we make in this area are for the good of the game."

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