So VAR so good - but ex-Premier League ref demands improvement

Solid start: The Video Assistant Referee has been back by former referee Keith Hackett
Solid start: The Video Assistant Referee has been back by former referee Keith Hackett

So far, so good. That is the view of former Premier League referee Keith Hackett when quizzed on the impact of VAR. Though it comes with a ‘but’.

Big challenges are around the corner, and he predicts games will be slowed down even more than they were during Chelsea’s match against Arsenal late on on Wednesday night.

The ex-top flight official warned there will be scrutiny ahead for the system and it’s a storm the Football Association may need to ride out.

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Hackett has been impressed by the first two matches, trialled on Monday too at Brighton & Hove Albion, though suggested the 40-second delay in deciding if Chelsea should be awarded a late penalty kick is small fry to what’s to come.

“I’m absolutely all for VAR, it’s long overdue,” said the 73-year-old. “I got the impression last night that there was a lot of trust between referee Martin Atkinson, and Neil Swarbrick, who was positioned just west of the stadium at Heathrow in his ‘office’.

“He used VAR a number of times, and for the first really big game this has been used it was a nice introduction. It’s been used around the world in many leagues and it’s made some powerful decisions. It’s been a positive start.”

Hackett is quick to urge caution. Although this week’s showcase matches have passed off without incident, it doesn’t yet mean it’s won everyone round.

No way through: Arsenal and Chelsea played out a 0-0 draw – with VAR the main talking point after
No way through: Arsenal and Chelsea played out a 0-0 draw – with VAR the main talking point after

Especially when a controversial moment does arrive. And it will.

“It’s been a nice introduction, but that’s all it is so far,” he added. “When the tight calls come, then we will find out a lot more and opinions will come out.

“The tests are yet to come. For example, a tight offside call – or a big incident, say a player spits, or something like the Ashley Young elbow. There’s also the moment when a referee decides to go against the VAR, that has already happened in America.

“We can’t quite say it’s been a success until we’re further along the line but the signs are good and it’s been well received.”

There were flickers of frustration at the amount of time it took for referee Atkinson and his helped to decide if a late Chelsea penalty appeal was a legal challenge, or if it was punishable.

Hackett warned that those at home clock watching are in for further delays.

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“If we think every VAR decision is going to take around 30 second to get to the bottom of then I think we need to look again,” he said. “I honestly think some will take around two minutes, even more, to decide. Take your time to get it right I think is the message.

“Remember, the referee has yet to watch an incident, decide he can’t call it, go to the VAR, then decides thats inconclusive, and then walk over the watch the screen back a few times. It’s only going to get longer and naturally things will slow down.

“It’s something the game shouldn’t be concerned about. The ball spends a long time out of play anyway, so it will be added. It’s important the referees get every bit of support possible.”  

Keith Hackett is a former Premier League referee and referees’ assessor as well as a director for You Are The Ref.

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