Whether it is the fault of the new handball rule, the officials themselves or the European Union (as Ian Holloway seemed to suggest), I think we can all agree that the video assistant referee system in its current guise is not quite working.
Introduced to try to make decisions more accurate and reduce the injustice our mere mortal referees inevitably produce, it was hoped we would be able to spend less time talking about the officials and more time concentrating on the actual football.
Yet now, after just a few weeks of VAR in the Premier League, it is dominating discussion to such an infuriatingly dull extent that during the most recent episode of the Telegraph’s Audio Football Club podcast, host Thom Gibbs set a one-minute time limit on VAR chat to try to prevent listeners switching off.
So forgive me for going on about video refs for a few more moments, but it seems to me there really is no way they can win.
Better – or perhaps more pedantic – refereeing clearly is not sufficient, given the backlash to some of the decisions we have seen in the past few seasons across Europe. For many, the maintenance of football drama as we know it is key – just not VAR-induced drama. Drama such as Michael Owen diving to win a penalty at the 2002 World Cup against Argentina, or Davor Suker’s wonderful lob over Peter Schmeichel at Euro 96 when he was miles offside are fine. With VAR we would not have those memories.
Was everyone happier with the way we did things before VAR? No. Are fans going to be content with VAR any time soon? Absolutely not. The parallel universe in which fans are happy with the standard of officiating – VAR-assisted or not – is one that simply does not exist. But is that the fault of technology and referees, or simply the fact that fans, greedy bunch that they are, will never be truly contented?
For so many people, football is the perfect release from the stresses of everyday life. Where else is it acceptable to scream at a stranger you hate with a passion for no legitimate reason?
But the real reason we enjoy it so much, and the reason that VAR will never succeed, is because football fans love a good old moan. Moaning is wonderfully cathartic when the echo chamber of a club’s fan base rings with thousands of agreeing nods about a striker that just will not stay onside, your winger’s refusal to get the ball in the mixer or the referee who is giving every single decision the wrong way.
What is more, when the fans are given what they want and they have any kind of success to enjoy, they just want more. And they want it now. Manchester City fans will retain doubt in Pep Guardiola until he delivers at least one Champions League trophy alongside another domestic treble.
Liverpool fans say they just want to win the title, but realistically as soon as that comes they will want a return to the days when they used to win it every damned year. Tottenham supporters are happy for now to be back fighting with England’s elite but be in no doubt: only trophies and sustained success will suffice. Arsenal fans moaned during the Invincibles’ run that Gilberto Silva was not good enough to play at the top level. Now they yearn for the days of a 49-match unbeaten run.
Meanwhile, when the smaller clubs are patronisingly proclaimed to simply be “happy to be in the Premier League”, their fans will not be putting their feet up. They want to beat the best teams in the country. All of them.
So, a message for the poor souls trying to make VAR a functional alternative to bad refereeing: when you think you are closing in on the best iteration of technology-boosted officiating, the fans will just start asking for more. Satisfaction in football will always remain an impossible dream.