As the best domestic competition in the world, the Premier League deserves world-class officiating but its current group of referees are falling short of that level, and flaws with the Video Assistant Referee system is to blame.
The ultimate responsibility lies not with the officials but their ruling body, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited, which has mistakenly decided not to operate the technology in the same way as other countries and other competitions.
In the World Cup and Champions League, the referee consults a pitchside monitor to ensure that he continues to make the final decision on four key areas: penalty kicks, offside, goals and mistaken identity. In the Premier League, however, the VAR is reviewing decisions without the input of the match official, which this weekend led to a glut of bad decisions.
In Manchester City’s victory at Selhurst Park, for example, the referee Anthony Taylor failed to detect a clear foul on Kevin De Bruyne inside the penalty area.
As it was a clear and obvious error, VAR reviewed the incident. It should have been a simple decision: a clear foul. But the VAR operator decided otherwise. It is impossible to know if this was because the VAR was reluctant to overrule the initial decision, but I am convinced Taylor would have awarded a spot-kick had he reviewed the incident pitchside – as he would have been encouraged to do in a Uefa game.
What makes the situation even more difficult to understand is the fact that the pitchside monitors are in place and the PGMOL claims they are operational. The evidence would suggest otherwise and good referees such as Taylor are being exposed as a result.
There were similar incidents elsewhere at the weekend. In Tottenham Hotspur’s draw with Watford, Dele Alli helped to control the ball with his arm in the build-up to his equaliser, which should then have been ruled out on review. The handball rule applies for the full length of the arm, up to the join on the shirt.
Burnley, meanwhile, had a legitimate goal ruled out after the VAR operator decided that Chris Woods’s clearly accidental contact with Jonny Evans was an offence. Once again, had the referee Jon Moss taken the opportunity to review the pitchside monitor, he surely would have signalled a goal.
For balance, it should be pointed out that the VAR did not get every important decision wrong over the weekend. At Molineux, Raul Jimenez rightly had two goals ruled out, the first for a clear offside, the second for handball.
However, even in the case of the handball, to “sell” the decision to the fans I would have liked to have seen the referee Peter Bankes go to the pitchside monitor and review the decision himself.
Last year, the PGMOL said it was only 82 per cent accurate on the big decisions and that VAR would help to improve that figure. I suggest that the accuracy of their decision-making accuracy in the low 80s when it should be moving towards the mid-90s.
Using pitchside monitors is the first step towards reaching that target
There was a time when the Premier League could boast world-class referees such as Howard Poll, Graham Poll, Mark Clattenburg and Paul Durkin. Taylor and Michael Oliver – who operated VAR yesterday – are clearly our best at the moment but even they are being undermined by the PGMOL’s approach to the new technology.
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I fail to understand why Marcus Rashford’s goal was not ruled out on review. Victor Lindelof clearly fouled Divock Origi in the build-up yet even the review by the Video Assistant Referee failed to pick up on the challenge. Possibly the referee Martin Atkinson chose not to award the free-kick because he felt Origi exaggerated his response, but it was clear from the replays Lindelof made contact.
It was one of several poor VAR decisions over the weekend. Even if Martin had not changed his mind, he should have at least reviewed the incident on the pitchside monitor. It would have ensured that he retained control of the game.
Instead, as is the case throughout the Premier League at the moment, he effectively passed authority to an insubordinate by giving the VAR the final word. This shortcoming with the system is undermining the game and rightly leaving everyone frustrated.