The VAR audio from Luis Díaz’s wrongly disallowed goal for Liverpool at Tottenham has been released by the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL), revealing the replay operator was the first person to spot the embarrassing error and urge the team of officials to stop the game.
The PGMOL held an internal review into the humiliating incident and on Monday said it and the Football Association would review the policy that allows officials to officiate matches outside Fifa and Uefa appointments, after it emerged the VAR and the assistant VAR culpable, Darren England and Dan Cook respectively, officiated a match in the United Arab Emirates 48 hours earlier. The PGMOL played down suggestions of mental fatigue, adamant the trip was comparable with refereeing a midweek Champions League or Europa League tie.
Liverpool were left seething over the incident, the latest embarrassing episode for PGMOL and its implementation of VAR technology. After a quick VAR check, the goal was ruled out for offside and the match restarted, but replays clearly showed the Tottenham defender Cristian Romero played Díaz onside.
The PGMOL immediately apologised for the “significant human error” in which England and Cook failed to overrule the officials’ on‑field decision. “Wait, wait, wait, wait,” said the replay operator, immediately after play restarts with a Spurs free-kick. “The on-field decision was offside. Are you happy with this?”
In the audio, which was first sent to Liverpool after a formal request by the club and then released to the public on Tuesday evening as part of the PGMOL’s drive for transparency, England, the VAR for the game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, describes the check as “perfect” before swearing as he realises his mistake, 22 seconds after the goal was disallowed following a VAR review.
Once the VAR and assistant VAR were alerted to their mistake by the replay operator, they repeatedly said they could not intervene as play had restarted. “Can’t do anything,” England said as the replay operator asked for the game to be delayed. More expletives follow once the reality dawns on England. “I can’t do anything, I can’t do anything. [Expletive].”
The VAR protocol according to the International Football Association Board, the game’s global rule‑making body, states the referee cannot undertake a review once play has restarted, except for the case of mistaken identity or for a potential red‑card offence.
A statement from the PGMOL on Monday said it recognised “standards fell short of expectations”. England, who was due to referee Leicester’s Championship match with Preston on Wednesday, and Cook have been omitted from the referee appointments this week but the on-field referee, Simon Hooper, has been named as the VAR for Everton’s home match against Bournemouth on Saturday.
The VAR error will probably be included in the next Match Officials Mic’d Up, a monthly television show hosted by the former England striker Michael Owen and the PGMOL’s chief refereeing officer, Howard Webb, designed to display greater transparency around some of the biggest refereeing incidents and talking points. The next episode of Mic’d Up, which airs audio between on-field officials and the VAR team at Stockley Park, is slated for the beginning of next week.
The PGMOL added that officials will be reminded that efficiency should never be prioritised over accuracy and a new VAR communication protocol will be launched to enhance the dialogue between the referee and VAR in relation to decisions. The VAR will be ordered to confirm the outcome of each VAR check with the assistant VAR before confirming the final decision to the on-field officials.
The Premier League confirmed that a full review of VAR procedures is to be forthcoming, after describing the Díaz incident as revealing “systemic failures” in the decision-making process.
“Having reviewed all relevant footage … and PGMOL’s report into the incident, it is clear that there were not only human errors but systemic weaknesses in the VAR process,” a Premier League spokesperson said.
“We accept PGMOL’s immediate recommendations to ensure that such failures are not repeated in the future. However, a wider review to seek consistently higher standards of VAR performance will be conducted by the Premier League and PGMOL, supported by other stakeholders, and where necessary further recommended actions will be brought forward and implemented.”