Howard Webb is set to bow to pressure to release recordings chronicling the Liverpool offside-goal fiasco in a move that could herald a video assistant referee overhaul.
Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), which Webb leads, has now received a formal request from the aggrieved Anfield club for the Var audio of the failed award of Luis Diaz’s goal in their dramatic Premier League defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.
The request was met with silence from PGMOL last night, indicating it had become a matter of when, rather than if, it would be acceded to amid an ongoing internal review of what went wrong and what to do about it.
That review could produce changes ranging from a much more explicit script for Var officials to follow, to lobbying for amendments to current protocols to prevent a repeat, to stopping someone being a Var for a fixture the day after they return from a long overseas flight.
Releasing the recording would also lead to renewed calls for all conversations between officials to be aired both to match-going and armchair fans, as they have successfully been in rugby union and cricket for many years.
Prior to making their formal request, Liverpool released a statement on Sunday referencing the need for “full transparency” regarding how and why Diaz’s goal was not given, despite the Var deeming it onside.
PGMOL has already acknowledged “significant human error” and indicated that the Var, Darren England, had mistakenly assumed the original on-field decision was onside, thus he informed referee Simon Hooper it was a case of “check over”.
Speaking on Sky Sports News on Monday, former referee Dermot Gallagher suggested Hooper was not informed a serious error had occurred until half-time.
That would raise questions about why England and his assistant, Dan Cook, did not intervene or advise Hooper so he could discuss how to fix the glaring mistake.
England and Cook knew within seconds that a major blunder had occurred and that correcting it would have meant breaking Var protocols that prevent decisions being changed once play has restarted.
Senior figures in refereeing believe that would have been the lesser of two evils, with one saying: “It would be pragmatism over protocol – and importantly you would then be on the right side morally.”
Jamie Carragher, the former Liverpool defender who is a Telegraph Sport columnist, said on Sky’s Monday Night Football that the fact the audio had not yet been released publicly was “unbelievable and unfathomable” and would lead people to suspect PGMOL was getting its story together.
For Liverpool, hearing the audio is crucial to getting to the full truth of what went on and ascertaining whether they may have any further grievance.
The club has said it is exploring “a range of options” but has offered no indication what they might be. They have not suggested at this stage that they will make a request to the Premier League to replay the game.
Liverpool lost the match 2-1 having been reduced to nine men as Curtis Jones was controversially sent off following a Var review, and Diogo Jota also saw red for two bookable offences.
The Merseyside club have formally appealed to the Football Association for Jones’s red card to be overturned.
Liverpool demanded “full transparency” from PGMOL on Sunday after Webb called senior Anfield executives to apologise for the serious errors. The club issued a strongly-worded statement branding the officiating “unacceptable” and suggesting the integrity of the result has been undermined.
Club sources say it is not the decision itself that has prompted their reaction, but the worrying malfunction in applying the laws of the game, especially given the technology available.
Club executives are also understood to have serious concerns regarding appointments of Saturday’s match officials, with England and Cook having worked in the United Arab Emirates two days before such a high-profile fixture.
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.
“It is therefore unsatisfactory that sufficient time was not afforded to allow the correct decision to be made and that there was no subsequent intervention.
“That such failings have already been categorised as “significant human error” is also unacceptable. Any and all outcomes should be established only by the review and with full transparency.
“This is vital for the reliability of future decision making as it applies to all clubs with learnings being used to make improvements to processes in order to ensure this kind of situation cannot occur again.
“In the meantime, we will explore the range of options available, given the clear need for escalation and resolution.”
Four ways to fix Var
By Ben Rumsby
1. Make the script used by Vars more explicit
The reason the decision to disallow Luis Diaz’s goal for Liverpool at Tottenham was not overturned exposed a major flaw in the script used by Vars when checking offside decisions. Simply stating “check complete” inherently carried with it a risk of a catastrophic misunderstanding between the on-field and Var officials. In this case, the latter’s failure to spot the on-field decision had been offside meant “check complete” confirmed rather than corrected it. It would be unthinkable for this not to have been addressed already by Vars being instructed to be explicit in future about whether a goal should be awarded or disallowed for offside.
2. Allow factually wrong goal decisions to be quickly corrected even if play has resumed
It was only a few seconds after the Var said “check complete” that Spurs took the free-kick resulting from the wrong offside call. At that point, the Var should have noticed that a clear and obvious error had been made and would have been in a position to inform the referee of this. However, Var protocol prevents the referee from stopping the game at that juncture and awarding the goal. Nobody with any sense would have complained about the protocol being broken for such a glaring error – provided the match was halted quickly. It also would not have been the first time Var protocol had been broken – it even happened at the World Cup last year when France had a goal chalked off after their match against Tunisia had kicked off again. It would be easy for the game’s lawmakers to allow discretion to be applied in extreme cases in future.
3. Allow conversations between officials to be aired live both to match-going and armchair fans
Calls for discussions between match officials to be broadcast long predate Var but this incident has made arguably the most compelling case yet for it. Indeed, allowing as many people as possible to hear such a conversation might even have seen the alarm raised before the free-kick was taken by Tottenham. Being able to listen in on discussions between referees and television match officials or third umpires has done nothing but enhance the likes of rugby union and cricket but football, the most popular of all sports, continues to live in the dark ages in this regard.
4. Ban PGMOL referees and assistants from officiating in other countries (except in Uefa or Fifa competitions)
The Liverpool offside goal fiasco has been compounded by the revelation the Var behind the blunder, Darren England, had been part of a refereeing team allowed to take charge of a game in the United Arab Emirates just two days earlier. Referees body Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) recently began allowing its employees to moonlight in far-flung countries during the season, which it saw as evidence of the high regard in which English officials were held globally. But this incident has raised questions over whether such moonlighting risks doing more harm than good.
England would also not have been selected to referee a match the day after returning from such a trip due to possible tiredness, but he was allowed to sit as a Var. This can also happen with midweek games in Uefa or Fifa competitions but critics will argue officials who cannot even do their day jobs properly should not be allowed to moonlight.