Alan Hubbard

"Be careful what you wish for." I remember being given that warning by my dad as a kid. Such sage advice always tempered my demands, although obviously not around Christmas time, and it rings especially true today as far English football fans are concerned.

For years, many of them have demanded the implementation of new technology to help eradicate dodgy decisions. Now they've got it, the majority don't like it. Or so it would seem.

VAR - Video Assistant Referee - was apparently introduced to eradicate any mistakes made by the match referee or to determine what you saw really did occur (or not). VAR currently is about as popular as VAT.

One critic has described it as "an abomination" disfiguring of the beautiful game, not fit for purpose and turning football into a laughing stock.

Some claim it is close to being unworkable and it certainly means that one of the basic maxims of sport, that the referee's decision is final, has been kicked into touch.

Elements of the system seem to change by the week. The problem is that unlike in other sports where a similar method is employed, such as tennis and cricket, the public are left in the dark as to why decisions are being overturned. Or not.

What began as basic goal-line technology to determine whether or not the ball had crossed the line has mushroomed into questioning virtually every aspect of the game, from offside to handball. It is no longer a simple affair like determining whether the winner of a horse race or a running race can be decided by long established and infallible photo-finish cameras. Or the electronic touch in swimming,

Immediately after VAR refused to review Trent Alexander-Arnold's controversial handball, Liverpool went up the other end and scored ©Getty Images
Immediately after VAR refused to review Trent Alexander-Arnold's controversial handball, Liverpool went up the other end and scored ©Getty Images

In tennis, cricket, and now rugby, fans can see for themselves by virtue of big screens or hear the conversations between officials. They are excluded from the process in football and often leave the ground shaking heads in bafflement as to what has been going on.

It is not so much that there is an annoying delay while monitors are checked, but that nothing is publicly explained. That is unless you happen to have the benefit of sitting in your own home watching the TV screens when commentators and pundits at least give their interpretation of what is happening.

Football authorities have long been guilty of regarding the public as an irritant rather than a necessity, the complete antithesis to what happens in fan-friendly American sport.

The Premier League introduced VAR this season, but a number of high-profile decisions have exposed many inconsistencies.

The league has brought in the system to decide on goals, penalties, red cards and offsides.

There have been intense deliberations over offside incidents, including Liverpool forward Roberto Firmino's goal against Aston Villa on November 2, ruled out because his armpit was marginally in front of defender Tyrone Mings' knee.

FA rules state "any part of the head, body or feet" can be regarded as offside.

Criticism of VAR has also included the lack of communication with fans and referees not using pitch-side monitors.

As an example, on November 10, Manchester City were denied a penalty for a claim of handball against defender Trent Alexander-Arnold in their 3-1 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield.

The incident went to the monitors at Stockley Park, but before reaching a decision, VAR had to take into account whether Alexander-Arnold had made his body unnaturally bigger, his arm was more than shoulder height and whether Bernardo Silva was in close proximity.

As has been pointed out, these factors contribute to a time-consuming process distinctly irritating to fans in the stadium.

In leagues around Europe, the referee consults VAR directly via a pitch-side video ©Getty Images
In leagues around Europe, the referee consults VAR directly via a pitch-side video ©Getty Images

The Premier League has promised to improve VAR's consistency and speed and increase communication with fans. The league will also lead a consultation with "fans and other relevant stakeholders" on the technology, but insist no major changes are imminent.

However, they say they are committed to improving communication, both for fans in the stadium and those watching on TV.

This may mean the implementation of "explainers", as happens in Major League Soccer in the United States. It launched a Twitter feed to explain what was being reviewed, and why.

A full review is likely to take place in the summer, but there seems little chance of the system being abandoned.

However, there is also a feeling that those working around VAR can only do so much in searching for greater consistency.

Of course, in these litigation-obsessed times there is no longer room for human error, which used to be accepted as part and parcel of any game. There is far too much money at stake for a hairline decision to be imperfect.

So, binning VAR is not the answer but there needs to be some compromise. Surely the most obvious one is to limit the number of challenges that can be made to a decision, as happens in other sports.

This will not solve every injustice, but where would we be without the occasional pub argument as to whether or not it was a goal, a penalty or someone should've been red-carded?

Such debate is the lifeblood of sport. Yet technology is here to stay in sport as in most other walks of life.

We knew it would not be perfect, but the powers-that-be must keep trying to make it as hassle-free as possible and not denude the referee of every responsibility or repeatedly undermine official decisions.

At the moment it is simply creating more controversy as well as confusion, all of which it was supposed to obviate.

Let’s hope we can get back to watching - and playing - the game more or less as we used to. Just don’t mention the VAR!