That annoying little thing called Video Assisted Refereeing; where has it all gone so wrong?

By Tony Attwood

Watching the newspapers and UK media outlets discuss VAR while I am in Australia has been illuminating to say the least.

Two days go the BBC announced that the Premier League clubs were not expected to announce that VAR is being introduced next season.

The next day the Daily Express announced that “VAR is hopeless and could ruin the Premier League if introduced”

And then six hours after that Sky Sports reported that “FA chief executive Martin Glenn expects Premier League to introduce VAR”.   This piece is interesting because it says, “It’s the Premier League’s decision whether to introduce VAR. They have in my view chosen correctly not to be early adopters because why wouldn’t you let other people find things out.”

Well yes, those funny little foreigners introduced it over a year we got it in England, and they have had their ups and downs.  In Germany almost half of the top division players who were interviewed said that they felt that they wanted the system abolished.  But in Italy there seems to be a strong feeling in favour.

And it is what has happened in Germany that begins to explain to us where the problem really lies.

The man in charge of the VAR project Hellmut Krug, said at the start of the season, “nobody will have reason to complain” about refereeing decisions.   But then suddenly in October last year he was sacked after the newspaper Bild stated that he had been caught influencing the VAR officials as they reviewed penalty decisions.  Krug denied doing anything wrong, but was sacked two days later.  You may recall I used German newspaper reports to cover the issue.

You may also remember that if ever I mention that there might be something wrong with refereeing in the PL I am accused of being a conspiracy theorist, and this leads to a couple of repeaters sending in notes after each game saying that each goal against Arsenal was due to the referee.  It is one of the boring things that people who don’t like reading discussions about such matters do over and over.

But there was in that dismissal a serious point.  Untold has regularly noted that the way in which refereeing in England is organised means that certain clubs will get the same referee over and over again and that were that referee to be bent, it would mean he could influence Arsenal games over and over.

There is no evidence that we have that the referee is bent, but it just seems so odd artificially to reduce the number of referees so that if there were a bent ref he would have much greater influence than would be the case if we had more referees – as all the other major leagues in Europe do.

Germany has never had this problem – always having more referees in the Bundesliga than in the Premier League – but the problem did indeed arise with VAR as the number of referees running the system in the trial season was tiny.  Bias was alleged and top man had to go.

Now we have been alleging either bias or incompetence among referees for years but since we’re just a privately run blog no one takes any notice.  In Germany when the allegations were made all the newspapers jumped in and starting investigating.  In England, no one takes any notice.  Except there are now daily calls for VAR to be abandoned in England.

So it does seem quite likely that next season all the European leagues except the Premier League will have VAR.  It will also run in the European competitions and in the World Cup matches.   Why then will they all go for it but England will stand out alone – especially since, as you may recall, PGMO was boasting three years ago of being at the forefront of the approach?

VAR does pick up errors in refereeing, and consistent errors in favour of one side are harder to cover up.  So again the question is, why not use it?

The answer given is that it is time consuming, it removes the excitement of the game, and (to quote from the BBC report), “There are also concerns over the number and quality of officials needed to officiate a full programme of fixtures.”

And thus we are back to the PGMO issue.  It utterly refuses to employ enough referees to ensure that each club only gets the same referee twice in a season – a simple and obvious precaution against match fixing which the rest of Europe incorporates.  So finding even more referees to handle VAR is going to be difficult.

This doesn’t explain why there are not enough referees in England while there are enough in all other leagues.  Nor indeed does it explain why most of Europe seems content with VAR but only England stands out against it.  What it does do is raise yet more of those annoying “why?” questions.   Why do we have fewer referees than other countries, when it is such an obvious way of preventing corruption to employ greater numbers?   Why are we objecting to VAR while other countries are accepting it?

I can’t answer such questions, but I do find them curious.


44 Replies to “That annoying little thing called Video Assisted Refereeing; where has it all gone so wrong?”

  1. Maybe if they looked for referees outside of the North of England there could be more referees. PGMO is not fit for purpose but they are, for some reason, allowed to get away with it and hide in secret. A organisation with such an influence on the game should be public.

  2. I again raised the issue of the possibility of bent referees to my work colleagues on Saturday.

    I explained who pigmob were. Never heard of it.

    I explained about the numbers of refs compared to the rest of Europe. Didn’t see a problem

    I explained about the Northern bias. Didn’t believe me. Then said it must be because southern refs are crap. Honestly.

    I explained how the low numbers of refs makes match fixing easier.

    In fact everything you normally highlight.

    None would consider for one second refs could possibly ever cheat.

    They make mistakes, they are only human. But cheat? Never.

  3. True to form,the PGMO have come out against VAR.
    They wish to preserve the right of their members to continue bias, corruption and ineptitude and who could blame them?
    It’s now up to the good guys to rein them in. 😉

  4. At work not one was in favour of VAR.

    Doesn’t work. Slows the game down.

    Again it was, yes refs make mistakes But it all evens out.

  5. Apologies. Answering Nicky and ”it’s now up to the good guys….”

    People have to believe that everything ”evens out” because once you realise you’re given 40 hours a week to your employer, and he’s getting 39 hours from you towards his profit, you do the maths.

  6. Notwithstanding the possibility of bent or incompetent referees (as mentioned in the article) it’s quite obvious that VAR is in no way ready to be introduced to the Premier League. The handful of matches so far featured have not showed it in a completely positive light and I see no requirement to rush it into production just to align ourselves with other European FAs.
    Certainly with more transparency, quicker resolution and a team of assessors (rather than just one referee) it could be an excellent ‘fifth official’.
    If it takes another season of trialing, so be it.

  7. There is nothing inherently wrong with VAR. Where it goes wrong is in allowing a biased organisation to operate it. Do that and any change will be shown in the worst possible light by those implementing it. I mean why on earth would you implement a system designed to prove you are useless, biased or bought. Much better to show that the new system can’t work.

  8. Sorry Tony a number of inaccuracies in your posting.
    First off the two year testing of VAR authorised by FIFA only finished on 3 March when it was agreed that the FIFA regulations would now be rewritten to incorporate the use of VAR.
    To date only one national league has confirmed with fifa that they will formally adopt VAR for next season and that is The Korean Republic. That said it seems inevitable that the likes of the Bundesliga will also follow.
    The testing of VAR in all top level league games in Europe was of a limited number Belgium, Poland, Germany, Italy and Portugal. Testing in selective cup games took place in The Netherlands, France, The Cech Republic and England .

    VAR will be in place at the WC but Alexander Cerefin head of UEFA has grave doubts about VAR and has confirmed it will not be used in next seasons CL or EL
    As for the PL I haven’t read anything coming out of the PGMOL that is anti VAR however it seems that that a few PL clubs ( including Arsenal and Chelsea) are 100% in favour of the introduction of VAR several are 100% against the majority haven’t made up their minds and it’s because of this it questionable that the required majority to implement will be achieved.

  9. Mike T, the problem in Belgium is the cost of the VAR system. 500.000 euro for the van. So we only use them now for 2 matches each day. But they KBVB have made sure that each club will have the same number of VAR matches.
    In all the system has worked positive. There have been growing pains of course. But the thinking in Belgium is: each error corrected is one step forward. They don’t focus on the times it went wrong but they focus on the times it worked.
    I have heard that the Professional clubs wanted the system for all the matches all the time in the future. The problem is the cost of the system.

    Tests in Holland have been rather good.

    When I saw how the PGMO implemented VAR and how it was done I wrote: “It looks as if they want VAR to fail”. And I think and feel this is the bottom line.
    In Germany test were also rather good when I watched and checked.

    So it looks as if the PGMO once again will be the only organisation who cannot implement :
    a) enough referees
    b) VAR

    One might even come to think they want to keep the current (dangerous) system in place at all costs…. And that for the richest league in the world….. Very strange….

  10. Thanks for that clarification Walter. (There’s a storm raging where I am in Australia so I’m actually awake at the same time as Europe for once!)

  11. I’m surprised the Premiere League didn’t get a contract with sky /BT to have them provide the VAR service.

  12. Walter

    Good to hear from you again.
    I don’t know if you picked up but a 19th name has been added to the PL refs a chap called Simon Hooper. I don’t know if he has been appointed to the elite group but it seems he has now progressed to a level considered up to PL standard.
    Also heard a rumour that Clattenburg might well be back to the Pl next season.
    At the moment PL refs and assts are organised in groups made up of 3 refs and 5 assts there are 6 of these groups within the elite list.Its clear that if VAR is introduced then a further qualified ref will need to be found for each PL game but in truth that shouldn’t be that difficult for it seems that several options are being considered from utilising previous days 4th officials alongside refs that are injured of which there is currently one.Another option is utilising assessors which are normally retired PL refs whose game knowledge is current but fitness isn’t up to the standard.

  13. Ben

    I can’t immediately recall the name of the company but Sky/ BT don’t provide TV coverage or the PL it’s a subsidiary company of the PL who in turn sell the coverage to broadcasters. Those broadcasters have their own editors , producers etc who in term will decide which camera angles etc to show.
    BT /sky/BBC provide their own cameras for things like interviews but the feed for VAR will be from whoever is the owner of the competition is .

  14. @Mike T,

    It is having 19 refs in name only. It is the distribution of matches that matter. Simon Hooper has done 1 match, where Michael Oliver has done 24. I did an article about this a while ago about how the distribution of matches are even and actually similar to Calciopoli Italy.

    As a comparison,
    1) Spain has 20 refs that did between 10 to 17 matches (17 highest overall). Premier League has 7 refs that have done 18+ games already.

    2) Germany has 19 refs that did between 8 and 14 matches (14 highest overall) and another 4 that did between 5-7 games. PL is the only major league with such a significant imbalance in the distribution of matches among referees (11 to 24 range for the other 18 referees)

    3) Even Italy has 22 refs that did between 8 and 14 matches (14 highest overall). They also have another 10 that did 1-2 matches.

    PL refs are grossly incompetently managed when you compare to the other leagues.

  15. Jerry

    Not doubting the stats at all but and here’s the big but without any evidence, as Tony suggests that any ref is “ bent” they it really is a matter of opinion as to which is the better approach.
    Another point is , and the stats don’t reflect that we have far more full time referees and assistant referees than any other FA in the world. Indeed if you look at say Germany a fair number of their referres at the top level are part time such a s the newly appointed female referee whose main occupation is that of a police officer

  16. @MikeT, Tony does not suggest any ref is bent, but said:

    “It utterly refuses to employ enough referees to ensure that each club only gets the same referee twice in a season – a simple and obvious precaution against match fixing which the rest of Europe incorporates.”

    He clearly says it as a “precaution against match fixing”.

    If you look at the stats I posted, Germany has actually 1 more full time referee (19) than the PL (18), just a more even distribution.

    Hooper did 1 PL match, if that is considered full time, I would have to include another 4 referees for Germany (who did 5-7 matches). All the data for each league’s refs are available on worldfootball.

    Can you tell me what is the advantage of having a large uneven distribution of matches among PL refs compared to other leagues? I can’t think of one. The disadvantages are clear:

    1) Doing more matches in a shorter period of time leads to fatigue, increased likelihood of ref injury as well as errors in matches.
    2) It’s a waste of money, since the PGMOL officials receive a professional contract. Essentially paying them a guaranteed income to do half as many matches (granted there is an increase for the per match fee)

  17. Jerry

    See again I believe it’s an opinion or a view that only officating each team twice would be an obvious precaution against match fixing. If a ref or refs were indeed manipulating games where is the evidence to suggest that the teams playing in the games is relevant ?
    I am not a betting man but I understand that those that are addicted will bet on anything from things as strange as say the time of the first throw in and whilst the final score is a an option a significant number of betting options are in the control of the players themselves.Personally I am more concerned as to players being corrupt than a group of individuals whose performances have far more scrutiny than the players.
    I was deliberately precise in what I said regarding full time officials. If you read my post you will see that we have more full time referees and assistant referees than any other FA and that’s a fact based on their employment status as opposed to the number of games they officiate in
    For instance PGMO now have 30 full time referees and 27 full time asst referees . Hooper became full time in 2016.
    To your points.
    1. The majority of the referees in other countries have other jobs on top of their referring commitments. As I pointed out the lady ref in the Bundesliga is also a police officer. The reason that full time refs can officiate in more games surely is obvious If for no other reason than they don’t have to factor in a day job and all that entails.
    2. The PGMOL pay less by way of match fees than the majority of the top league. There are , I believe only two levels of remuneration. The 18 ( now possibly 19) elite referees get the same and the next group a lower amount.In Germany the match fees are higher but the levels of remuneration are to a large degree based on experience.

  18. If I were to push for VAR in the EPL , I would promote it to the PIGMOB as it being a great way to get their already impressive refereeing stats (97%) to that Holy Grail of 100% .

    It will be along the lines of ,” Now that you are already and undoubtedly the world’s greatest refereeing organisation , why don’t you go one better and just raise that bar even impossibly higher ? ”

    Become the only organisation to work perfectly and smoothly , without any faults or mistakes . I guess that should always be the aim of any conscientious person or society .

    What about you guys ? Do you believe that this lot can go on to greater heights ? Are English referees really the best in the world ?

  19. I would like to ask a possibly silly question.

    Is there a rule somewhere that states that only English referees may be appointed in the PL? If not, why do we, as the best league in the world, with the most money, not ensure that we have the best referees in the world?

  20. @Mike T,

    I’m sorry, but the argument iyou are making is based on false information.
    1) About limiting the number of times a referee visits a club was one of the recommendations to avoid a similar Italian Calciopoli scandal occurring.

    2) The Premier League has only 18 Full time referees. There are 30 PGMO Full Time referees only if you include Select Group 2 which primarily does Championship games. That does nothing for the Premier League. If you want to include full time officials from 2nd level football leagues, all of the othe major associations would blow the FA out of the water. For example, Germany has 23 full time officials in the first tier alone.

    3) I don’t discount your opinion that refs in other leagues might have other jobs. Was the lady referee in the bundesliga you mentioned a lines women? Because due to the match fees based on the link I have attached, German and Italian refs will make more than PL refs after 20 games accounting for the retention fee. Spanish refs would make more after just 10 matches.

    A league by league comparison shows the Premier League has both fewer refs and an uneven distribution compared to all other major leagues ( Bundesliga, Serie A, Bundesliga) and associations. That’s just the facts. The only way to compare is by number of matches, because I could be wrong but no other association gives out retainer contracts. They just assign from their select groups and pay more per match.

  21. JP

    That’s a good question and as it stands at the moment the answer is yes there are limitations. Historically we have seen Welsh refs officiate in English football such as Clive Thomas but at this moment in time there doesn’t appear to be any non English affiliated refs operating in the PL. or indeed the EFL.
    However in the last month or so UEFA have sanctioned a trial in the Swiss and French league s in effect it’s an exchange which allows refs to swap leagues.

  22. I can’t be the only one that thinks VAR is purposely being used incorrectly and in such a manner that really disrupts the game? I mean, how hard could it possibly be to review a slither of footage and give a decision on it? Yes, some decisions can be slightly ambiguous, but nowhere near to the extent that we have seen with VAR.

  23. Jerry

    Either we are talking at cross purposes or I am not getting my point over.

    Firstly the Caciopli was about influence and manipulation of match day appointments as opposed to what we normally mean when we use the term Match Fixing

    As I understand it the idea of restricting the number of times a ref can take charge if one teams games in a season has never been adopted by UEFA or FIFA . Other leagues have various ways of allocating match officials and yes that includes the PL. I am pretty sure that Mike Riley doesn’t have a role in the match day appointments

    There has long been a debate as to how much full time refs are paid in the PL but and here really is for me the crux of the matter that the contracts in Germany do not require their refs to be dedicated full time to being match officials.

    For instance the two top refs in Germany are Felix Brych who is a lawyer and Deniz Aytekin who is in management.

    I have no doubt that the Bundesliga refs have central contracts, I think that is replicated just about in every major league but the point is that the PL refs are full time professional match officials whereas in Germany that is quite simply not the case .

  24. Also, frustratingly, I feel like I have to mention this on almost every article about the PIGMOB; it’s not that they employ less referees than other leagues, but rather the games that they are given are not distributed anything close to evenly, with some referees getting less than 10 games and others getting over 20. In my eyes, this is even worse than simply not having an appropriate number of refs.

  25. Mike T – “I am pretty sure that Mike Riley doesn’t have a role in the match day appointments” Then why is it that a handful of refs (who also “coincidentally” just so happen to be the ones that repeatedly provide the worst performances) are consistently given well over twice as many games per season than others?

    Is it because they are seen as more competent? If you believe that to be the case then surely that would indicate that the refs getting less games just aren’t good enough in the first place to be officiating at a PL level?

  26. Jammy

    Quite simply they have the best ratings. Oh and on top of a refs assessor a major factor in the numbers is provided by the first team coaches.

    I agree with you that the games should be spread out more and other than injury or declared support of a team then I too believe if you are on the PL list you should be able to officiate all games in that league.

  27. Mike T,

    Just because they have other professions should not make a difference. Simply put, is Felix Brych a full time referee for the Bundesliga? Clearly the answer is YES. He works a full time schedule for their league.

    Is that the only thing he does? No. Many professionals in the healthcare field work full time at 2 hospitals. Activities outside the workplace should not have any bearing unless they were doing some criminal activity.

    Dr. Felix Brych also received his doctorate by writing a thesis on the sport and also wrote a book. Why does PGMO not allow PL referees the same freedom to express themselves?

  28. In regards to about the ways, leagues allocate match officials. EVERY other major league allocates their match officials much more evenly! In fact, in all of the other leagues, the largest difference between the full time official that did the most matches and least matches was 7!

    The premier league refs gap was 13! About double other major leagues!

  29. Mike T “Quite simply they have the best ratings” – Source? Because when reviewed on here, these are the referees that actually consistently get the worst ratings.

  30. Mike T – Because as far as I know there is no such thing as an official individual referee rating system, so it seems a bit odd to me that you would say “Quite simply they have the best ratings” with such certainty when you couldn’t possibly really know that.

  31. What is it about ‘Johnny you will only play with the ball Uncle Mike gives you.’ that many of you don’t understand.

    We have a whole selection of abuse going on and you cannot see anything corrupt with selection of officials in English football.

    If our government were selected as per PGMOL would you accept it?

    If the transport system were run with only 350 select drivers in London would you think that was safe & healthy for the people using the streets.

  32. @MikeT,

    If you use your link and click on referee index, you will clearly see the referee match distribution issue that I pointed out that no other league has.

  33. Jerry and as you will see from my posting earlier where i make comment in support of your comment regarding distribution of games.

  34. Menace

    Please don’t call me Uncle Mike. You may not mean anything by it but best not go down that route.
    As for how we select our government if you are thinking that’s a good model then we are going to have to agree to differ for in most of the constituencies the colour of the MP is a given meaning that the selection panels be they labour , conservative or whatever are the ones with the real power to decide who the MP will be.

  35. Mike T so now you deliver the game ball? The Mike I was referring to was Riley! 🙂

    Whatever your opinion of UK democracy may be Mike T, Independent MPs also get elected. The Parliamentary Democracy is among the better systems of fair process. The PigMob do not have any process or open random system of selection or appointment.

  36. Menace

    Apologies but I genuinely thought you were referring to me

    Whole different debate regarding democracy or precived democracy again based on opinion.

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