How VAR Performed On Its English Debut

 • by Andrew Gibney
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Years from now when pub quizzes around the country ask: “Which was the first competitive English game to use VAR?”

You will be forgiven for not instantly knowing the answer is Brighton & Hove Albion against Crystal Palace in the third round of the 2017/18 FA Cup.

Down at the Amex Stadium, the new technology made it’s debut without being called upon, although there was some questions being asked regarding Glenn Murray’s winner.

The new video assistant referee or VAR system will only be used to help with decisions on goals, penalties, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity.

For Monday’s cup-tie, Andre Marriner was the referee, backed up by Neil Swarbrick and Peter Kirkup monitoring screens in a remote location.

What is VAR?

It was only after a two-year trial of the VAR system that the International Football Association Board gave their approval.

VAR operates using a three-step process of incident, review/advice, decision, and across the four jurisdictions of football deemed ‘game changing’ by FIFA.

The IFAB says VAR will only be used to “correct clear errors and for missed serious incidents” in those “match-changing” situations.

The referee will always have the final say and he has the option to consult a screen on the sideline which will show him the incident in question.

How did VAR perform on Monday?

Monday’s game came and went mostly without incident and for those totally against this technological advancement, so far in the leagues who use it, decisions have averaged at around once every three and a half games.

When Dale Stephens smashed his shot past Wayne Hennessey to give the Seagulls the lead, although there was no doubt in the validity of the strike, the assistants monitoring were able to watch back and give Marriner the signal that everything was fine. There was no noticeable delay in the game.

After the final whistle, Palace players were questioning Murray’s winner for Brighton. They thought he used his arm to turn the ball over the line, but you could see the referee dismiss their appeals.

Replays had shown the ball came off the striker’s knee and just missed his arm, although Graham Poll in the BT Sport studios admitted the video referees didn’t look at the angle behind the goal which would have given them the clearest view.

Ultimately, any touch was minimal and the angle of his arm means there was no play to make a touch with his arm. The touch with his knee enough to turn the ball into the net.

The officials got the decision correct and that’s all the teams can ask for with VAR.

Where will VAR be used in the future?

Due to Bristol City’s lack of cameras at Ashton Gate, the system won’t be used in Manchester City’s Carabao Cup fixtures with the Championship side, but the second experiment will take place on Wednesday as Arsenal face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Whoever makes the final at Wembley will again get a chance to see how VAR works in English football.

In Europe, both Germany and Italy started using the system in their leagues at the start of the new season.

The Bundesliga saw some early issues, especially when communication between the referees and the head quarters in Cologne completely failed. There have been early teething problems, especially with the VAR team assessing decisions that would not normally be classed as game-changing.

Over in Serie A, the biggest issue has been the time the decisions have taken, with Juventus boss Max Allegri joking “It’s turning into baseball,” he said. “You’re at the stadium ten hours. You eat a few nuts. You see some action every quarter of an hour.”

However, in a report taken in November proved the time taken for the call to come through had dropped from 1 minute 22 seconds in Week 1, to just 40 seconds.

VAR is not something which will work perfectly from day one. The referee on the pitch and the assistants behind the screens will only improve their ability at making the correct call with every game they are allowed to use it.

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