In 2017, Major League Soccer (MLS) became the first soccer league in the world to use the video assistant referee (VAR) in every game. The system – which allows video referees to check decisions made by the on-field officials and also allows the match referee to review decisions on a pitchside monitor – was met with mixed reactions but did increase accuracy according to official bodies.
In Europe, VAR was initially seen as a novelty (much like the MLS) but by the time it was introduced at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia, European fans woke up to the reality that VAR was coming and there was nothing they could do about it.
Lessons from the NFL
The NFL has been using video technology for over 30 years. So when the New England Patriots faced the Los Angeles Rams in the 52nd edition of Super Bowl, no one was remotely concerned about how video replays would delay or impact the outcome of the game. Fans were more concerned about checking the latest American football odds before placing their bets for the game. However, many people forget that there was a decade-long period of controversy before the kinks were ironed out.
Therefore, it was no surprise when VAR got off to a shaky start in the Premier League.
VAR was supposed to relegate Liverpool
In true soccer fan tradition, many tried to make the best of the situation. In 2018, when Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah scored a goal that was allowed despite him being marginally offside when the ball was played, some rivals supporters suggested that incoming VAR technology would expose Liverpool as the luckiest team in the Premier League.
When VAR finally arrive, Liverpool will get relegated.
— Aymeric de Blue (@Aymeric_deBlue) December 8, 2018
Some suggested that as well as being lucky, the Reds also had some darker forces on their side.
If you add VAR and take away the luck of Satan and we’d be 17 points clear of Liverpool.
— Colin (@colgcra) December 8, 2018
VAR is here – Liverpool are still top
Fast forward to mid-November 2019 following the introduction of VAR in the Premier League. Far from being embroiled in a relegation battle, Liverpool found themselves eight points clear at the top of the league with rival fans calling for VAR to be scrapped as it is clearly favouring the team from Merseyside.
Even Liverpool fans were questioning the technology after Roberto Firmino’s goal against Aston Villa was ruled out because his armpit was offside. This incident sent the world of punditry into meltdown with some analysts even holding rulers against their monitors to prove that the lines used by VAR to judge the incident were not straight. Luckily, the Reds summoned the forces of Satan and went on to win the game anyway.
Soccer is dead!
By the time VAR raised its ugly head again in Liverpool’s win over Manchester City on November 10, football fans had had enough: “The game has gone,” “No point watching anymore,” “Football is dead!” The scenario was eerily similar to that which occurred in the NFL in 1991 when video tech was initially voted out of the game.
Blues left fuming
Everton fans, in particular, were left fuming as VAR was meant to reveal Liverpool as a pub team punching above their weight, while the hard-done-by Blues would finally blossom into title contenders.
But rather than being the great leveller that removed any bias towards the big teams, VAR simply confirmed that some teams are just better than others and that referees still make massive howlers, even when equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
Conspiring with the devil
Or perhaps, as some Everton fans suggest. It is all part of some grand conspiracy to ensure that Liverpool win their first league title in 30 years. A conspiracy that extends from the referees, their assistants, the VAR officials, the Premier League, the TV companies and their pundits, all the way to gates of hell.
@ToffeeReb You were spot on. VAR didn’t allow it. The Liverpool pact with Satan is alive and well
— John Connor (@bootleian) November 10, 2019