Fed-up players ramping up pressure to get former pros to help make VAR decisions

Fed-up players want old pros to help make VAR decisions after being driven to distraction by dimwit refs who don't know what they are doing.

After another rash of high-profile cock-ups, including last month's £180 million promotion shoot-out between Nottingham Forest and Huddersfield, players and managers have had enough.

Now Premier League stars are ramping up the pressure and demanding that ex-professionals who understand the dark arts join VAR officials in their Stockley Park bunker to help them get it right. Pundits including former England captain Alan Shearer and Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher have consistently warned that VAR technology is not the problem.

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They reckon it's the referees in charge of the toys who are spoiling the game. Players and bosses unions, the Professional Footballers Association and League Managers Association, are pressing for more input in key decisions from ex-pros.

From red cards to penalties, from disallowed goals to officials drawing lines across screens with their geometry sets to prove a striker's armpit is offside, fans hate VAR. And players only tolerate it when it's applied correctly, consistently and fairly. There was huge disquiet after last month's Championship play-off final between Forest and Huddersfield, where VAR was used for the first time in club football's richest game – ostensibly to protect the fixture's integrity – only for the Terriers to feel cheated by the system.

Huddersfield demanded an explanation from the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) after referee Jon Moss, in his final game before retirement, booked Harry Toffolo for diving when he was clipped in the box by Jack Colback. The Forest defender was caught on TV cameras crossing himself afterwards, and then VAR Paul Tierney inexplicably failed to intervene when Max Lowe brought down Lewis O'Brien.

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After Forest's 1-0 win ended their 23-year exile from the top flight, Moss received death threats and his vinyl record shop in Leeds was vandalised, but players believe it is VAR officials in their Stockley Park bunker who are not applying the laws consistently or properly.

Speaking last season, PFA chief executive Moheta Molango said: “Players have asked why – with their experience and understanding of the game – former professionals are not a larger part of the decision making processes around the implementation of VAR. Surely this is an idea worth exploring if it helps officials and gives players greater confidence in the VAR process?”

With major stakeholders in the domestic game in favour of ex-players becoming involved in VAR decisions, the blockage appears to be the International Football Association Board – guardians of the laws – who insist that only qualified referees should adjudicate contentious incidents.

One senior source said: “It is bound to be discussed at pre-season meetings between clubs and referees. It is clear that most, if not all, governing bodies are in favour of ex-players and managers helping to smooth the process of VAR and IFAB need to understand the voices are growing louder.”

Last season in the Premier League, 120 decisions were overturned on review by VAR leading to 47 goals being awarded and 43 disallowed, with 38 penalties awarded and nine overturned. Liverpool and West Ham were the biggest net beneficiaries, each with a +4 goal difference based on VAR interventions, while Arsenal, Brentford, Manchester City, Southampton and Watford all +3 to the good. Norwich, Leicester and Burnley were the clubs most frustrated by VAR, all suffering a -6 net goal difference.

Critics of VAR point out that two major handball decisions, which both went in City's favour, contributed to the Blue Moon's fourth title triumph in five years under Pep Guardiola. City were awarded a contentious penalty when Wolves midfielder Joao Moutinho was penalised for handball, even though the ball struck him on the armpit, and Raheem Sterling scored the only goal of the game from the spot. And PGMOL chief Mike Riley apologised personally to Everton manager Frank Lampard after City escaped Rodri appearing to handle the ball in his own area in the dying minutes of the champion's 1-0 win at Goodison Park.

Former England coach Roy Hodgson, bowing out of the game as manager at relegated Watford, revealed the modern handball law is the biggest bugbear he will not miss in retirement. Hodgson said: “What makes me want to throw things at the screen is the decisions that referees are being required to make. VAR is a double-edged sword because there are moments when you are grateful that it exists and it would have been a real miscarriage of justice if certain things had been allowed to stand.

“On the other hand, there are things so marginal that you hanker for the old days where it was left to the referee and linesmen to make their minds up. But the thing that is so totally and utterly wrong is the handball law as it stands – and I really cannot believe there are people within the game who don't want to react to it. I feel sorry for the referees. I'm pretty certain a large proportion of them would agree with me, and not with what they are being asked to do.”


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