Merseyside Derby: Is VAR killing football?

When FIFA thought about the very modern Video Assistant Referee (VAR), the aim was to increase transparency in arguably the most-watched sport in the world. However, since implementing VAR in local league games, there have been a number of eyebrow-raising calls that have left fans reeling and neutrals scratching their heads.

The latest installation of the Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton was no different. In a match that had a bit of every, from mouth-watering plays, well-taken goals to a red card, perhaps it was fitting that as the game drew to an end a bit of controversy was required to see out Saturday’s match day.

On 87th minute of the 90, Everton suddenly found themselves a man down after Richarlison had been sent off for a lunging challenge which the referee on the day was well-positioned to spot. The logical decision was for Everton to sit deep and see out the rest of the minutes, which was what they had intended. However, in the 91st minute of the 5 minutes promised in extra time, a seemingly well-timed passed from Thiago freed up Sadio Mane who kept his composure well enough to release a diagonal ball into the heart of the Everton 18 yard box where an onrushing Jordan Henderson was perfectly positioned to sidestep the ball into the net for a late dramatic win for Liverpool. The game at that point was well and truly wrapped up, at least to the naked eye.

However, after minutes of deliberations, VAR raised the no goal sign, signaling Mane in an offside position when he received the ball from Thiago, meaning that fans were left the develop a microscopic vision to determine how in what way that decision was achieved.

In the end, it was ruled that Mane’s elbow had been slightly offside rendering the entire move void. Liverpool was on the negative end of a VAR decision. In truth, these kinds of calls have come to be expected from the system that was seemingly set up to ensure transparency. In the past, that Jordan Henderson's goal would have stood and Liverpool would have gotten all three points which they desperately needed for confidence after that 7–1 thumping at the hands of Aston Villa, last time out.

The system is perhaps flawed and there have been many who have been critical of it. Pep Guardiola had previously described the system as a big mess and he is not the only one. Letting his thought know last season Guardiola was quoted by bleacher report as saying “I said many times I have a huge list for VAR. Every weekend is a big mess,” he said. “In other games, it was a big mess. Hopefully next season it can do better.”

Against Liverpool today, VAR was no better than the mess that Guardiola described last season. The system seems to turn on itself, without any recourse to precedence and while many teams have benefitted from these inconsistencies (look away now, varchester united), there have to be more consistencies amongst the calls else it looks like the referee decide who goes home with three points.

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©️ Amaka Obi.