VAR turned soccer games from fluid to choppy

Olivia Baude, Opinion Editor

Saturday mornings aren’t the same because the Premier League, English football (soccer), isn’t the same. The problem isn’t players Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres retiring or even the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the culprit is the video-assisted referee (VAR).

VAR is a replay of a call that’s been questioned by a group of referees behind the scenes; then, after review, the call is either upheld or overturned.

According to the Premier League’s official website, “VAR is used only for ‘clear and obvious errors’ or ‘serious missed incidents’ in four match-changing situations: goals, penalty decisions, direct red-card incidents and mistaken identity.”

Soccer is one of the only truly beautiful games. This is in large part because it does not have a jerky stop-start format, which exists in football. A good soccer game flows. Now, VAR dampens that quality. What’s the point of not having timeouts if you’re going to stop the game for minutes on end anyway?

Despite such concerns, VAR was introduced in the 2019-20 Premier League season much to most fans’ dismay.

“I thought it was going to be unfair because it was going to be used a lot, and now it’s used multiple times in a game when a lot of the time it’s not needed,” said Adrian Rosiles, a sophomore and varsity soccer player.

It is most often used to determine if a goal is offsides. Offsides is when an offensive player passes the ball past the last defender in the attacking half of the field. This rule is in place to prevent a player from sitting at the end of the field waiting to be lobbed the ball. 

“There’s been some offsides where it hasn’t been called offsides. Then to have it be called for that far {gestures small distance between fingers} offsides, it doesn’t make sense,” said Mike Dayton, an MHS soccer coach and English teacher.

He continued, “That [the distance the player was offsides] did not disrupt the play; it didn’t disrupt the flow of play.”

Goals have been called offsides for a toe past the last defender– calls that a linesman, the referee that runs up and down the field to determine offsides, would never call. VAR is more often than not used to abuse a rule that is supposed to help facilitate the build-up of a play, not stifle it.

The overapplication of VAR in offsides calls leads to the game being played differently than the game most watched growing up. Previously, a viewer would know almost immediately if a goal would count or not. Viewers’ stomachs didn’t drop when they saw the ref do his little jog over to the sideline, and they didn’t curse out the TV as much. On Saturday mornings, there was no yelling, “Rooney!” (referring to Wayne Rooney who played at Manchester United for many years as one of their tolerable players) followed by an exasperated, “It went to VAR.”

“Now defenders are trying to play to make VAR work in their favor, but this makes the style of play for defenders very limited,” Sophomore Emmanuel Bahena said.

The limited defense style of play is the higher line that more teams have adopted because it creates an offsides trap. When both teams play with this strategy (an example being the recent Arsenal versus Liverpool match), the games are lower scoring.

Celebrating a goal, then having it be disallowed will happen when watching most sports; however, VAR changes the watching experience because of how lengthy the delays are.

“It goes too far when it takes away from the game, meaning when it takes four minutes or 10 minutes for them to figure out whether or not something is a foul,” Dayton said. “Let’s just play the game.”

Restrictions to how much referees rely on VAR would return some of the fluidity of games. An example of a regulation might be to determine how much distance offsides is counted– is it a reasonable advantage, or is it more beneficial to let play? But in the meantime, we’re stuck with too many and too long stoppages.

“It brings tension because you really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bahena said. “It’s your own opinion versus the referee’s and VAR looking over it. It can infuriate you.”