Tropical Leaves

The Rise of VAR in Football

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By Jai Pise

VAR, or Video Assistant Referee, has become a dreaded acronym in world football, proving to be much more controversial than anyone could have imagined. Specifically, it has sparked outrage in many games across world and club football when it comes to the offside rule. This rule, often misunderstood, makes sure that no player tries to ‘game the system’ by simply standing close to the opposing team’s goal and waiting for the ball to come to them.

Before the introduction of VAR in the 2019/20 Premier League season, the decision on whether or not a player was offside was based solely upon the referee’s discretion. However, with the advent of this technology, different camera angles are used to determine whether any of the player’s body parts are offside, with a decision made in a remote location and conveyed to the on-field referee. In theory, this may seem like a great idea, and while VAR rarely makes errors, fans of the sport are left with a bitter taste in their mouth when denied what they feel is a rightful goal. For instance, if a player’s elbow is millimeters ahead of the offside line, even if they go on to score a goal, it will be disallowed. Jamie Carragher, former Liverpool great and current Sky Sport pundit, summed up fans’ sentiments regarding VAR - “I don't think people are enjoying football as much.”

However, in combination with the offside rule, VAR has also transformed the effect of fouls in the buildup to a goal. A significant example of this is in the Liverpool vs. Everton game in October 2020. Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk was closing in on goal when Everton’s goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, made a reckless tackle that ruptured Van Dijk’s ACL, causing him to withdraw from the entire season and disrupt Liverpool’s title defence plan. However, what enraged fans the most, was the fact that Pickford didn’t get sent off for his clear foul. The reason? VAR declared that Van Dijk was offside at the time of the foul, meaning the foul was deemed invalid.

Thus, while VAR does have its merits, it seems that there is a need for consistency - don’t deny a goal for offside unless it’s clear that the offside was significant, because at the end of the day if one’s elbow is a few millimeters ahead of the offside line, will that really make that big of a difference?