Look, we don't like moaning about VAR and its problems any more than the next person. But, when incidents like today's happen, an inquest is inevitable.
West Ham took on Chelsea in the 5:30 kickoff in the Premier League today. It was a fairly tepid game, with Timo Werner scoring the only goal in the first half and not a huge amount else happening.
And then, with ten minutes to go, those dreaded words arrived. "VAR are taking a look at this." The incident that Stockley Park were 'taking a look at' involved West Ham defender Fabien Balbuena, who cleared the ball under pressure from Ben Chilwell and caught the Chelsea defender on the shin on his follow through.
RED CARD! 🔴
Fabian Balbuena is sent off by referee Chris Kavanagh after he caught Ben Chilwell with his follow through. What do you make of the decision?
📺 Watch on Sky Sports PL
📱 Follow #WHUCHE here: https://t.co/4xhtbR60p7
📲 Download the @SkySports app! pic.twitter.com/O7GK8VwK6S
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 24, 2021
Referee Chris Kavanagh was advised to take a look at the incident on the VAR monitor and, after a brief consultation, reached for his back pocket and sent Balbuena off.
It was a shocking call, with social media alive once again with discussion about VAR and the problems surrounding it.
How can VAR and the referee get it so wrong? It’s just baffling. Utterly baffling. 🤦🏻♂️
— Gary Lineker 💙 (@GaryLineker) April 24, 2021
In many ways, that red card highlights the biggest problem with VAR and referees.
Everything looks worse in slow-motion but there’s literally nothing else Balbeuna can do as he’s clearing the ball.
— HLTCO (@HLTCO) April 24, 2021
The incident really showcased the biggest issue with VAR.
Most football fans would surely be open to video refereeing, if the decisions made were logical and made with a cool head. Indeed, when VAR was first introduced, it was under the remit that only "clear and obvious" errors would be brought to the referee's attention.
God, even the phrase "clear and obvious" is engrained on all of our minds now.
That is the issue though - time and time again, VAR are pulling the referees over to the pitchside monitors to look at miniscule incidents in minute detail, with slow-motion and super-slow-motion replays shown on repeat until the referee is convinced to change his mind.
There have been too many touch-and-go offside calls, and too many red cards for incidents that surely wouldn't have been called out with the naked eye. Today's was a prime example of that - Balbuena is just following through after kicking the ball. Do we really think anyone would have called that a red card if it wasn't for the existence of VAR?
Var.... yes I was an advocate for it but wow what a disaster it has turned our game into!!! Oh and slow motion makes everything worse!!!!!
— Charlie Austin (@chazaustin10) April 24, 2021
There's been too many incidents that haven't been caught by VAR either. Arsenal were unlucky not to have two opposition players sent off when they took on Aston Villa in February. Anthony Martial was sent off in October for striking Erik Lamela, who avoided a red for a similar action seconds earlier. Too often referees are missing obvious reds, but calling out 50-50s or outright wrong calls.
We saw another example of VAR's obsession with the minutiae of the rulebook earlier on Saturday morning, when Newcastle had a goal ruled out against Liverpool after the ball rebounded against Callum Wilson's hand. The law is ridiculous and there's not a chance any of the Liverpool players either saw the incident, or would have argued if Newcastle had not been penalised.
Newcastle were compensated there for being victims moments earlier of the ludicrous handball law.
Physically impossible for Callum Wilson to avoid the ball hitting his arm.
— Paul Hayward (@_PaulHayward) April 24, 2021
And that is where the problem with VAR truly lies. The technology is there, but until there is decisive and consistent action from referees, we're getting absolutely nowhere. Referees are constantly drawn to tiny incidents that nobody either on the pitch or in the stands took issue with, while missing major incidents or getting those calls wrong.
Look at how well the TMO is used in rugby. Rarely, if ever, do we hear fans raising issue with a refereeing call in rugby, and if we do it's never the TMO that people complain about. That is because the laws are clear and the standards of refereeing are high. The same cannot be said of the Premier League, where we're constantly seeing referees exposed for their lack of bottle and knowhow.
VAR is here to stay and it's time we accept that it is not the system itself that needs overhauling. It is the referees and the human Video Assistant Referees that need a look, rather than the technology itself. If the technology is used properly, it can help the game develop and remove any contention around (most) refereeing decisions. Until the standard of refereeing is improved, though, the problems with VAR will remain for the foreseeable future.