Problems that VAR won’t fix

The Premier League has announced that starting next year officials will be allowed to use VAR (video assisted refereeing). The hope is that by using the same replay technology that fans get to watch at home, the referees will get more calls right. And maybe they will. Though judging by the vehement disagreement that still happens over nearly every controversial moment, I doubt it. Either way, I knocked up a list of things that I’m absolutely certain that VAR won’t solve.

    1. Offside
    2. Handball
    3. “Making a back”
    4. Stupid referee “advantage” calls
    5. Timewasting
    6. Dives
    7. Pastel colored kits
    8. Ticket prices
    9. VAR
    10. Brexit

¹The offside rule seems like one which will be solved by VAR simply. Is the player onside when the ball is played? Draw a little line on the screen and even the worst referee can see whether a player is offside. However, the offside rule allows for a player to stand offside so long as they are not interfering with play. This is often called the first phase. The rule also allows that same player to score goals if they are onside during the second phase. 

²Handball is a lot like porn: you’ll know it when you see it. According to the actual laws of the game, handball has to be intentional. In addition, the laws state that position of the hand is irrelevant and that the referee must take into account the distance of the ball to the hand. It’s all about intent. Judging intent if often impossible, though they (commentators from the golden age of football) do like to say things like “well the hand went to the ball” even when the ball was behind the person’s head and the opponent’s pass was less than a foot away and it would have taken preternatural reflexes to have intentionally handled the ball. In practice, the rule is simplified in the 18 yard box to “did it look like someone handled the ball, at all? Then it’s a foul. Or maybe not, it really depends, it’s up to the referee to decide.”

³One of the most dangerous actions on the pitch is one which the British call “making a back” and the Americans call “undercutting.” This is when a player on the ground makes no attempt to win an aerial duel and instead just creeps under his opponent causing them to fall awkwardly on the ground often from a great height. For some reason this is almost never seen as careless, reckless, or using excessive force. 

⁴Nothing is going to deprive Mike Dean of his one true joy in life: the dramatic advantage call. Never mind that the “advantage” being played is often given 80 yards from the opponent’s goal and that the opponent has just booted a player’s shins into splinters. It’s an advantage because Mike Dean says it’s an advantage damnit. Now play on!

⁵There are only three things that a team can control in a match: the space, the ball, and the clock. And some teams (because they are unable to control the first two) rely solely on a set of tactics to control the clock. VAR won’t be used to fix this problem and may actually make it worse. VAR simply can’t be used to decide this type of action, though it would be funny to watch a referee take two minutes to go over to the video screen in order to see a goalkeeper moving the ball from one side of his box to the other and then decide whether that was timewasting or not! 

⁶There are three main types of fouls/dives: the foul (actual foul), the dive (clear dive), and the foul (plus dive). In theory, the VAR should solve problems with the referees not seeing or wrongly seeing the first two but what it won’t solve are problems with the last one. The foul plus dive is like when a player receives a light tap on the face and goes down holding his face like it’s been sliced off his head. Or worse, when a defender hangs out a leg and the attacker could have gone over/around it but instead kicks out one of his own legs to initiate contact. VAR won’t fix any of these problems and, in fact, may even make them worse. For example, there was a moment in a recent match where a defender went over to berate the attacking player for what he thought was a dive. When the attacking player got up, he sort of made a head-butting motion toward the defender and the defender went down grasping his face as if he’d been injured. I suspect VAR will make these types of dives much more common because the only risk is that you look a bit silly but the reward is a red card for the opponent if the referee is fooled. 

⁷Nothing is going to stop Nike and Adidas from putting out more kits that are colored like various forms of 70’s food nightmares or baby puke. NOTHING. One day in the future you’ll all look back on these days with the same fondness that 80s kids have about “hypercolor” and you will say “oh god, I wore that?”

⁸This one is really not funny. I don’t see any way that ticket prices are going to ever return to something reasonable. 

⁹Perhaps, in some distant future, when we are all sick of VAR, VAR2 can be introduced. It would be a 2nd VAR, one that the officials will signal to look at while they are looking at VAR. And then when we are sick of VAR2 there will be a VAR3 and a VAR4 and so on, forever, like a mirror looking at itself inside a mirror being held by Mike Dean.

¹⁰Nothing will solve Brexit because Brexit isn’t a plan so much as it’s a political ploy. Brexit is just rich people using fear of immigration to get people to vote for politicians who will enact policies that are beneficial to rich people. Other than the anti-immigration component (which looks like it will pass) Brexit is like Major Major Major Major in Catch-22 and this exchange is illustrative:
First Sgt Towser: Sir, you can only see the major when he is not in.
Captain Tapman: You mean I can only see the major when he’s not in?
Towser: That’s right, Sir.
Tapman: well when can I see him.
Towser: When he is in, he’s not there and you can’t see him, and when he’s out – then you can see him – except that he’s not there.
Oh and before you accuse me of not seeing the log in my own eye, the only reason I’ve come to this conclusion is because of what Donald Trump has done to America with the exact same political ploy, over and over again. 



  1. VAR doesn’t provide a definitive answer, decisions will still require some subjective judgement or interpretation by the referee, but it will give him a better look and stop so many things being missed. Therefore better decisions on balance, plus the added drama, what’s not to like?

  2. Even if the call accuracy is improved by 1% it’s still worth it.
    And the extra time spent by ref watching his little screen won’t bother me at all, I’ll just switch the channel momentarily to check on Trump impeachment proceedings.

  3. I thought VAR worked nicely at the World Cup. I really can’t get too worked up about it either way. As long as it’s not used as an excuse to introduce commercial breaks into football that is.

    Brief aside: Does anyone know if there is ANY point to the NFL’s 2 minute warning? I’ve never seen such a blatantly contrived, useless rule in all of sports.

    1. So as someone who doesn’t really get American football, I thought it’s a nice quaint rule which adds a small variable to clock management.

      But I grew up watching cricket and maybe that’s why I like quaint rules. Except the ‘strategic timeout’ introduced which is nothing but an ad break. But I don’t watch much cricket anymore so whatever.

    2. The NFL 2 minute warning is extremely important because it marks the point when the defending team can still stop the offense and get the ball back with time left on the clock. If the defense has no timeouts left and the offense gets a first down after the 2 minute warning, then the offense can just kneel for subsequent downs until time expires. The play clock is 40 seconds, meaning you can run 39 seconds off the clock before snapping the ball (if the game clock is running before the snap because the previous play ended inbounds without a pass incompletion), so 120 seconds is exactly 3 times that.

    1. Which reminds me that Tool are recording a new album and tgey will have a tour in the summer I already got a ticket, yay!

  4. Mate..
    Amazing article you have outdone yourself..All excellent but 2 points need spcecial mention.
    7. Pastel coloured kits…hahahahaha .lololololo…very good…
    10. Outstanding, insightful and on one would think you are get it more that most people wno voted
    Just enjoyed this blog very much..

  5. Acerbic, funny stuff.
    Despite the probable inability to properly decide some calls, bad VAR better than no VAR.

    Wenger lobbied for VAR for years to no avail. I would think he’s pleased about this development.

  6. Mane sprinting to the ball from off side position right in front of Leno is clearly opposite of being “not active” but I’m willing to accept such ruling from VAR even though I vehemently disagree with its interpretation.

    The vast majority of wrong off side calls are cut and dry cases that can be corrected upon a ten second review or less.

    Hand balls , red cards v yellows will leave more room for interpretation and consistency will be the name of the game here.
    But once a precedent is established it will be harder for officials to put their own spin on things.

  7. One of my main issues with VAR and goal line technology is that it makes the game more far removed from the rest of us. One of my favourite things about soccer is the ability that children, rec leagues, and I can all play the sport by the same rules and with the same technology as every league in the world. With the introduction of goal line technology and VAR it creates more of a gap between what they play and what I play with my buddies on the weekend and even between Premier League teams and leagues a few tiers down.

    It’s more of a romantic thing, but isn’t that what soccer is to many of us?

    1. This is a strange argument. Honestly, I never understood this and maybe you could explain it to me. But I don’t see how it has anything to do with romanticism. It’s not like everything is equal across the board. Is it any less fun to play football on a grass pitch because it doesn’t meet PL standards? Or less fun to play cricket without being able to appeal to Hawkeye? Do kids in Africa feel they are playing a different game when sometimes they don’t even have shoes to wear, and with goals marked with stones?

  8. If VAR would reduce the number of wrong calls, it would be worth having. It won’t eliminate all error, but that’s not what it’s meant to do. It also won’t destroy football as we know it.

    Love the image of Mike Dean playing the advantage 🙂 What an insufferable fusspot. And tosspot.

Comments are closed.

Related articles