Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Wolves go two-footed on VAR and PGMOL

Morning all.

There’s not much stirring from an Arsenal perspective this morning, so let’s begin with the story that Premier League clubs are to vote on a motion put forward by Wolves to scrap VAR. They said in a statement:

After five seasons of VAR in the Premier League, it is time for a constructive and critical debate on its future. Our position is that the price we are paying for a small increase in accuracy is at odds with the spirit of our game, and as a result we should remove it from the 2024-25 season onwards.

Somewhere, a lone ESPN journalist lets loose a plaintive cry. “Nooooooooo, not after everything I’ve built!”

In order for this to go ahead, 14 of the 20 Premier League clubs would have to back the motion, but I honestly can’t see it happening. This feels very much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. In fact, the horse bolted so long ago, he is now in a different parish altogether, and has settled down with his wife and foals to start a new life away from the evil stud-farm/jockey school from where he made his escape. This horse is  not going back.

Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why Wolves would love to see the back of it, having been on the end of some horrendous decisions this season. And I think if you were to poll most fans of Premier League clubs, they would have complaints to make. I think it’s also fair to say that if VAR did get scrapped, and some linesman missed an obvious offside in the first game of next season, we’d never hear the end of complaints about how we’re not using the technology to offset that mistake.

“It’s 2024! This is like walking around with a Motorola DynaTac 8000X instead of an iPhone, what are we doing?!”

I do wonder if this motion by Wolves isn’t so much about scrapping VAR, but ensuring there is a proper conversation and dialogue about it, because whether you’re for or against it, nobody can argue that there aren’t problems. The introduction of semi-automated offsides for next season should, in theory, go some way to improving things. Is there anything more tedious than the play being stopped, then we have to watch two lads in a box deciding where to draw lines with MS Paint? Not forgetting that the fans inside the stadium have no visibility of this so they just have to sit and wait and hope – one way or the other – until a decision is made.

It might also help if PGMOL themselves weren’t such an absolute mess, and if VAR has done anything since its introduction, it has highlighted how this organisation is barely fit for purpose. This collection of officials and its leadership consistently become the talking point week in, week out, in the so-called ‘best league in the world’.

The problem for me is that even with all the evidence this season that the officials and the leadership aren’t up to standard, it’s extremely difficult to have a constructive dialogue about it. Howard Webb changes things behind the scenes mid-season, which produces greater inconsistency, which drives managers and fans mad, but almost all attempts to discuss that are routinely shot down.

It goes something like this:

1 – Ref/VAR makes an awful decision that’s basically impossible to justify based on what we seen on the video.

2 – Manager complains about decision which has cost his team vital points.

3 – Ref is ‘demoted’ to a lower league to, quite often, make a mistake there too.

4 – Manager is charged with misconduct for his comments.

5 – Ref is ‘promoted’ back to Premier League, whistling a jaunty tune.

6 – Columnists write pieces about how hard it is to be a referee, citing examples at grass roots level about abuse of officials, and blames manager for his remarks, warning that football itself is in peril if we don’t have referees. Which is obviously true, but a complete straw-man argument in this context.

Let’s be clear: abuse of referees or officials is wrong. Especially the further down the ladder you go. There’s no justification for it. However, when you have an organisation like PGMOL, which operates like a kind of corrupt police force which will always protect itself and its cops first and foremost, the lack of accountability is a significant problem. It’s been very clear from things Mikel Arteta and other managers/clubs have said this season that they have attempted to raise issues with PGMOL, but to little satisfaction. Then people wonder why they get so vexed when bad decisions are made.

In almost every job, there is leeway for mistakes. We’re all human. These things happen. But at some point, if you keep making errors, you’ll get hauled into HR and your P45 won’t be too far behind. That just doesn’t happen with Howard Webb and his motley-crew of Manchester-based lads. Until that changes, the technology will be a side-issue. Until referees, like almost everyone else who earns their living through the game of football, are subject to performance-based reviews of their position, little will improve.

I think there are things that could improve VAR. Speed it up, for one. I didn’t necessarily agree with all the decisions that were made in our Champions League games this season, but the fact it didn’t take 5 minutes each time makes it easier to live with. I’d also like to see them invest in some cameras, it’s weird to me they’re making decisions on footage that looks like it has come from a Sony Handycam. This is an 8k world, what are we doing here? Don’t change rules/thresholds for decisions mid-season either – especially without communicating that to the people who watch the game.

As I said, I can’t see this motion going through, but I do hope that the dialogue required to improve standards takes place. I think everyone accepts being a referee is hard, but you can’t say ‘This is hard, there’s nothing we can do about it’, that’s not how it should work. Will Wolves spark that conversation? Let’s see.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. There’s a brand new Arsecast available for you below, chatting about rivalries and managers, Mikel Arteta, the final day, Vivianne Miedema leaving Arsenal and lots more with Tim Stillman. Happy listening.

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