With the introduction of VAR to the Premier League next season, millions of football fans will experience the joys and idiosyncrasies of the technology. After getting a taster in the World Cup and Champions League, they'll now be hoping that the English referees, commonly seen as among the worst, will now finally be able to get their decisions right.
But will be that truly be the case?
Will all wrong decisions be a thing of the past?
As a regular viewer of Serie A, which has had the technology for two seasons, and semi-interested follower of other leagues with VAR, I can give you a definitive answer:
No, most definitely not
It won't magically correct every single
wrong decision the referee makes.
It won't magically correct every single major
wrong decision the referee makes.
And it won't magically correct every single wrong decision the referee makes leading to goals
So what will it definitely correct?
When will it actually be used?
This thread aims to clear up those questions to Premier League fans, but also to anyone who's seeing VAR introduced to their favourite league as well. It can also serve as a discussion thread for any controversial VAR decision/non-decision.
I'll start off with a list of FAQs, which will cover the broader aspects of VAR, then with a list of NSFAQs (not so frequently asked questions), which will cover the implementation aspects of VAR, plus specific cases. Both of these are not exhaustive.
If you have a question yourself, I will add it to the "community questions" section at the bottom along with my answer.
Now, let me be clear, I'm not a referee or a VAR man myself, I'm only doing this because I'm seeing a lot of confusion as to when VAR actually gets to be used (I'm a bit of a lurker), and I thought I'd share my experience of the technology to answer your questions and clear things up.
Also, this OP will probably be in constant "WIP" mode to add more questions in the lists and to make it look a bit better. Feedback is welcome.
What does the rulebook actually say?
The Laws of the Game state that VAR "may assist the referee only in the event of a
‘clear and obvious error’ or ‘serious missed incident’ in relation to:
a. Goal/no goal
b. Penalty/no penalty
c. Direct red card (not second yellow card/caution)
d. Mistaken identity (when the referee cautions or sends off the
wrong player of the offending team)
What does "clear and obvious error" actually mean?
According to the IFAB VAR Handbook, it does not mean "was the decision correct?", but "was the decision clearly wrong?".
Who decides when VAR will be used?
It's a moot point, given that VAR continually checks every decision relating to the above four points. A better question would be...
Who decides when the ref has to go look at the pitch-side screen?
The ref, always the ref. All that VAR can do is "recommend" a review, and the ref decides whether they should go ahead with it or not.
I've heard about "check" and "review". What's the difference?
"Check" is VAR-only, it's when they're quickly looking at something relating to the four above points. It's also when the ref puts his finger on his earpiece. If the ball is out of play or the teams are waiting the restart after a goal, the ref may delay the restart to allow for the check to complete.
"Review" is when the VAR told the ref of a probable "clear and obvious error" or "serious missed incident" they discovered during the check and he does the TV screen hand gesture. The hand gesture indicates the "start" of the review, i.e. the VAR is talking to the ref and describing the TV replays they're watching (VAR-only review), or the ref is going to the pitchside screen to have a look himself (on-field review). Once the review is complete and he has made his final decision, the ref does the TV hand gesture again and indicates his decision.
Who has the final decision?
Again, it's the ref. VAR is used just to assist him, not to replace him.
How's the practical implementation of the VAR laws?
It has to be said that the refs don't always follow the absolute letter of the law when it comes to VAR. In theory they'd have to do the TV hand gesture twice every time a decision goes to review (one at the start and one at the end), in reality they do it only when they go to the pitch-side screen. For decisions like offside/not offside goals, they typically go straight from finger on earpiece to decision, without doing the TV gesture.
The spirit of the "clear and obvious error" rule should be "was the decision clearly wrong?", but as you shall see, it's not always considered...
A goal came from a free-kick/corner/throw-in that shouldn't have been given, surely VAR fixes that?
Er, nope. Once the ref or linesman gives it, it's given, exception of course for penalties.
There was an offside/foul from the attacking team preceding a penalty, what about that?
In that case VAR can revert the decision.
What if there's a foul from Team A against Team B in the penalty area, Team B doesn't get the penalty, and Team A go up the other end and score?
This is probably the worst-case scenario for VAR. Team A will have the goal disallowed and Team B the penalty given. It happened both in Serie A and the Dutch league.
What if, at a corner, the ball was outside the quarter circle at the corner flag (it's supposed to be at least on the line), and the team scores from it?
Never seen an instance of a goal being disallowed because of that, so I guess it doesn't fall under VAR's jurisdiction.
Does VAR fix every wrong offside call?
Most of them, but not all. Reason being, if the linesman puts up his flag before the attacker has a chance of scoring, even if he wasn't offside, the phase of play is over. What usually happens though is that the attacker is allowed to shoot before the linesman raises his flag, if it's a clear opportunity. If he doesn't score there's no VAR, if he does, VAR. Also, the ball-coming-off-a-defender-but-attacker-was-offside situation is still a massive grey area which VAR still can't fully fix. Furthermore, with very close calls, sometimes they give offside, sometimes they don't, even with the help of lines.
Can penalties be awarded after the half-time/full time whistle?
Oh yes. Happened once in the Bundesliga where the ref had to call the players back from the tunnel at half-time. The IFAB VAR Handbook mentions that a penalty can be awarded after the full time whistle as well.
Does VAR fix penalty area encroachment during penalties?
Nope. Absolutely not. Probably the most ignored rule in football still gets ignored.
Does VAR fix penalty area encroachment during goal kicks?
Weirdly enough, yes. In a Serie A match a goal got disallowed as the attacker just about trod on the line, and part of his body was just inside the penalty area, meaning he had encroached, and the ensuing goal was annulled. Next season the rules for that will change anyway, but it's something to keep in mind.
Does VAR fix irregular kick-offs (players in opposing half) leading to goals?
I don't have a definite answer to that. While penalty area encroachment for penalties isn't punished, penalty area encroachment for goal kicks is, and as a result I don't know what they would decide on encroaching into the opponent's half at kick-off.
Can yellow cards be "upgraded" to red ones?
It is possible.
Can red cards be "downgraded" to yellow ones?
What if there's a handball in the penalty area, but none of the players notice it and there are no calls for a penalty?
It doesn't matter whether there were protests or not, the VAR will check and a penalty can be given.
There's a foul in the penalty area, no penalty is initially given, but the ball is still in play. When does VAR come in?
In theory, as soon as the ball goes out of play, or the ball is in a "neutral" area. In practice, just when the ball goes out of play. It rarely happens that the ref stops the play himself.
What if the ball stays in play for a long time after a foul in the penalty area? Is there some "timer" that expires?
In theory, no. In practice, I do get the feeling that if the ball stays in play for a while, VAR eventually "forgets".
Does VAR fix handball decisions in the penalty area?
Not at all of them. Refs can still get them very wrong. However, from next season there will also be new rules regarding handball, so things could get better, or much worse. Depends on the ref, really.
What will the Premier League use to indicate that VAR is being used to review a decision? (@Alastair)
Finger on earpiece/TV screen hand gesture/"VAR review" on big screen if the stadium has one. Ideally. The Bundesliga and Serie A have been using the stadium big screen to signal VAR reviews and decisions since the start.
UPDATE: Confirmed, they'll use the stadium big screen to relay information about VAR decisions, including replays for overturned decisions.