With the halfway point of the season behind us, Liverpool Football Club holds a commanding 22-point lead at the top of English Premier League. English soccer, or football as they would say, has never been a fan of modernization. England was one of the last countries in Europe to make soccer a professional sport. Thus, there has been quite the pushback from players and coaches alike with the introduction of a new technology such as Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
VAR was introduced at the beginning of the 2019-20 season to take out the unpredictability of a human being, such as a referee or linesman. It was introduced to add a sense of equality––that no matter the team or referee on the pitch, the outcome would be the same. At first, it looked to be working correctly, as referees allowed for play to develop to its natural conclusion with the knowledge that they had a team looking for any issues in the calls they made on the field. The introduction of this new technology has seen a steady decrease in simulation of fouls (diving). According to former Premier League referee Howard Webb, players who dive “run the risk of immediate punishment” with the introduction of VAR, according to an article by ESPN.
Soccer purists believe that the simulation of injury or a foul should not go unpunished as it has in the past. With VAR, players who attempt to falsely change a referee’s decision can face penalization in the form of a yellow or red card on the field, and off it they can face suspension from future games. This goes back to the purpose of VAR—to make every game fair no matter who is playing. In the Premier League, VAR has been met with some hostility, as it has not equally punished teams across the league for similar incidents, chief amongst them Liverpool F.C.
Liverpool has never won a Premier League title and has not won a first division title in over 30 years. Opposing fans have begun to say that the only reason they will win the League this season is because of VAR. One can see where their frustrations are coming from. In certain matches, fouls and goals that had been given in other matches played just hours before were not called correctly.
The first came in a Dec. 30 match against Wolverhampton. It was seen that a Liverpool defender had used his hand to control a pass in the lead up to Liverpool’s opening goal. The second incident came in Liverpool’s game against the same opposition on Jan. 23. Again, a Liverpool defender committed a foul––this time, slide tackling a player and making contact with the opponent’s shin in a dangerous manner.
Neither of these incidents were penalized, and VAR agreed with the refereeing decisions made. However, incidents exactly like the ones previously mentioned had been given as disallowed goals and red cards in other matches. In the match only two weeks earlier between Arsenal and Crystal Palace, an Arsenal player was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle that was similar to the disallowed foul in the Liverpool match.
Looking towards the future, either VAR needs to be changed or removed completely from the game. Matches must be fair across the board and not subject to a referees interpretation of the laws of the game. The rest of the season looks to be an interesting one, as many teams have the opportunity to escape relegation and capture Champions League qualification.