Last weekend's VAR error that led to Liverpool’s opening goal against Tottenham being ruled out has thickened the debate about the usage of the video technology in football.
A school of thought, on the one hand, argues that the video technology helps minimise human error and helps referees make the right decision by allowing certain incidents to be reviewed by the main referee or by the VAR team.
But, on the other hand, there is the argument that VAR gives room for humans to get in the way of the game by mishandling or misinterpreting the video technology.
Of the two schools of thought, the latter played out in an unprecedented manner during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Tottenham.
The Reds were wronged because of a "significant human error" that led to Luis Diaz's first-half goal to be controversially chalked off for offside following a VAR review.
It later emerged that the decision was a result of a miscommunication between the on-field officials and those on the VAR team.
By then, it was belated as the damage had been done, with Liverpool losing the match 2-1 thanks to a 96th-minute Joel Matip own goal.
In the aftermath of this latest debacle, Liverpool weren't economical with their words in venting out their frustration as they questioned the "sporting integrity" of the game.
“It is clear that the correct application of the laws of the game did not occur, resulting in sporting integrity being undermined,” Liverpool said.
“We fully accept the pressures that match officials work under but these pressures are supposed to be alleviated, not exacerbated, by the existence and implementation of VAR.”
The above statement caused a stir as pundits in some quarters bashed Liverpool for not helping matters, particularly because their statement hints that "some sort of secret cabal is trying to ensure one team suffers or another gains an unfair advantage," due apologies to ESPN Sports Writer James Olley.
In any case, the real issue with VAR is that of the human one rather than that of the technology. Take the sequence of events that led to Luis Díaz's goal being incorrectly disallowed against Spurs.
VAR Darren England and his assistant Dan Cook checked the goal. They applied the lines as usual and saw that it was onside. Yet, England and Cook had thought the on-field decision was "goal" when it was actually offside.
So when they told on-field referee Simon Hooper "check complete," they mistakenly confirmed the offside decision should stand, with Tottenham receiving a free-kick.
This laughable but embarrassing incident makes one wonder what were England and Cook doing to not see that the linesman had flagged Diaz offside? Were the duo thinking about what they would have for dinner? Or did they fall asleep in the VAR booth?
The reasoned conclusion on this matter — in regards to how the events played out — is that the VAR officials were not competent on the job. Their sole responsibility was to enhance the game via the video technology and not bring it into disrepute.
Yet, the pair goofed big time, making it worth remembering that last season VAR failed to rule out Ivan Toney’s goal against Arsenal, which earned Brentford a 1-1 draw and cost the Gunners the chance to go seven points clear at the top.
In addition, earlier this season Wolverhampton was denied a clear penalty against Manchester United when Andre Onana crashed into Sasa Kalajdzic in stoppage time at Old Trafford.
These howlers indeed make football enthusiasts lose faith in the credibility of the competition, irrespective of the constant apologies from the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) to Premier League clubs who bear the brunt of poor officiating.
With the potential for human error still existent despite VAR introduction to the Premier League at the start of the 2019-20 season, it still does not mean that the right way to go is to rip up VAR because of one horrendous mistake.
The video technology presumably, for the most part, has done its job, especially when one considers that it successfully amended 49 offside calls and overturned 116 decisions in the Premier League last season.
Instead, what ought to be done to build trust and confidence in VAR in the Premier League is to allow VAR to be operated by competent people. This is because the level of refereeing and of VAR so far this season is low. Otherwise, costly errors like that at Tottenham will keep on reoccurring, which incessant apologies will never make up for.
Beyond this, the law that an error cannot be revisited once play restarts should be scrapped. There would have been no fallout from Diaz's goal had the officials been empowered to overturn the decision seconds after the restart. This beggars the question: what are the laws there for, if they don't serve the game?
Also, there's a pertinent need to ensure that there is clarity in communication between match officials. The phrase "Check complete" heard in the audio released by referees' body PGMOL is quite ambiguous and subject to multiple interpretations. Officials should be mandated to stress or repeat in simple terms that an incident is either onside or offside so as to prevent a debacle from happening again.
Additionally, the semi-automated technology for offside should be introduced to the Premier League. The system takes much of the human part out of the offside equation by allowing technology to do the geometry by itself. All the VAR officials are saddled to do is validate a decision that is effectively made by the technology. The technology was used effectively during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and so does UEFA use it in Champions League. The Premier League cannot resist the introduction of semi-automated offsides and hope at the same time for top-notch officiating.