The Liverpool faithful heaved a sigh of relief when they thought Cody Gakpo had equalised for the home team against Aston Villa in the 55th minute in a recent Premier League match.
But VAR officials, sitting over 200 miles away, asked referee John Brooks to re-evaluate his decision on the pitch-side monitor and the goal was soon overruled for an offside.
Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk had received the ball after a deflection off Villa defender Ezri Konsa and his cross was steered into the net by Gakpo. But as Konsa’s deflection was seen as ‘not deliberate’, van Dijk was deemed to be in an offside position.
A late Roberto Firmino goal salvaged a point for the Reds, but the referee’s decision of disallowing Gakpo’s goal has come under criticism from many quarters, including the Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp.
“I asked the ref why the goal was offside because offside situations should be clear, but he explained it to me,” Klopp said. “He said it was a subjective decision. He thinks it is a not deliberate action from the defender, but I think it is. And I think the VAR wasn’t sure.”
This is not the first time that refereeing decisions, especially the ones involving the VAR, have caused a stir.
In February this year, Ivan Toney’s equaliser against Arsenal – which should not have stood – was awarded to Brentford, leading to Video Assistant Referee Lee Mason stepping down from his job.
On the same day, Pervis Estupinan’s goal for Brighton was denied against Crystal Palace as Roberto De Zerbi’s side dropped two points with a draw.
Brooks was in the VAR room for that game.
Learning from mistakes
The slip-ups and mistakes in the league have been acknowledged by the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Board), the body handling Premier League refereeing citing ‘human error’.
That is something that the league will look to avoid and improve VAR, Neil Saunders, the director of the Premier League told Sportstar.
“Working with the PGMOL, which Howard (former referee Howard Webb) came in and joined at the back end of last year as our Chief Referee Officer, we’ve developed our Elite Referee Development Plan (ERDP),” he said.
“We’re coming to the end of the first year of that plan which is to elevate the quality of coaching so that we’ve got world-leading referees in the workforce in England.”
The league has followed the path of the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan, a project targeted at young footballers) to develop more match officials, including referees, to match global standards.
In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there were no referees from England for the first time in 80 years. Four years later, in Qatar, that figure stood at just two out of 35.
“Our work with the PGMOL – who are ultimately responsible for the referees – is to try and support the referees to make them the best in class,” Saunders said.
“To support the development of those referees that are there in the Premier League at the moment but also to support the future, the development of the pipeline of talent to come through and referee in the Premier League in years to come.”
He also added that the VAR is also ‘part of the plan’ and that it will only improve in the upcoming seasons.
The VAR, having started in the 2019-20 season, saw in-game referee conversations being released for the first time when Webb discussed the VAR calls with pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher.
Unlike field hockey – where the talks between the referees on and off the field during VAR decisions are completely public – VAR calls in football are confined only between the referees because FIFA forbids releasing the talks during the game.
But Webb, along with Neville and Carragher, discussed the decisions with the audio after the games.
“I hope tonight’s been a good insight as we’ve revealed how officials communicate and some of the rationale behind the decisions. Going forward we want to do more of the same,” Webb said on Sky Sports.
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