What effect has VAR had on the game since its introduction to the Premier League in the 2019/20 season? An in-depth look.


“VAR is NOT there to get the correct decision”.

These the words of former Premier League referee Peter Walton on BT Sport after witnessing Aston Villa goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez wrestle Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette in Villa’s 1-0 win against the Gunners. To many viewers this baffling scenario just summed up the whole situation with VAR since it was introduced to England. Baffling. If isn’t there to get the correct decision then what exactly is it supposed to be doing?

Video Assistant Referee or ‘VAR’ is where technology is used to give referees the precise video footage, with better angles and views than what those available to the on-field referee, to check decisions are being made fairly and accurately. The stipulation, however, is that the referee on the field of play will always make the final decision not the VAR or assistant VAR’s. Decisions such as penalties, direct red cards and mistaken identity are all reviewable. VAR will also, according to the Premier League, run offside checks “once the goalscoring opportunity is complete. If a goal is scored, the VAR will check the offside judgement.” The VAR will draw lines (a common critique of the system comes with these) to adjudge whether the attacker has gained an advantage by being further advanced than the defender. Any part of the body, including the attacker’s hands and arms, are deemed offside when ahead of the defender. Every moment in the game is watched by VAR for an infringement or missed incident.

Walton reminded puzzled viewers in his comments on the Martínez and Lacazette debacle that, “it [VAR] is there to identify clear and obvious errors from the referee or if the referee has missed something.” This is however where irony strikes for many, with VAR’s MO, sorting out the ‘clear and obvious’ decisions and weeding out the seemingly ‘controversial decisions’, the ‘human errors’ and ‘referee misjudgements’, not really representing how it’s actually operating right now.

Surely, VAR was introduced to do just that, many commented, help the ref come to the correct decision? Okay, so not all referees (former or otherwise) agreed, but it does demonstrate how VAR has caused quite the stir. Just look on Twitter during a Premier League game (not always advised). The bafflement and subsequent vitriol come across quite potently. Problem is, it’s not just those watching on that are regularly mystified. Those in the game are equally perplexed week in week out. This is where issues arise, when the confusion doesn’t just stem from supporters but those directly involved in the game as well.

There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that VAR has been controversial and considerably baffling in equal measure. Question is, how much damage has this controversial introduction done to those in the game, as well as those looking on, since it was brought to England’s top division? What effect has it had?

Let’s explore this further.


VAR’s use in the Premier League since the 2019/20 season

As previously mentioned, many viewers are often confused by how VAR is actually being used in the Premier League, so here’s a little reminder on how it was advertised before it arrived back in 2019 via official channels from the Premier League in conjunction with the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Board), the body responsible for match officials in English professional football.

The VAR or Video Assistant Referee who watch the game via monitors at their headquarters at Stockley Park can talk directly to the on-field referee through their earpiece. The VAR can command the play to stop when a decision needs to be looked at. The on-field ref will signal a check is in progress by raising their hand up to stop play and will inform the players that a decision is being reviewed. VAR reviews the video footage of the incident and advises whether action needs to be taken, contrary to any on field decisions that have already been made. If there has been an error, the referee will draw a rectangle with their arms – like a big TV screen in the air – to show they’re changing the original decision. At times when decisions are not obvious, the VAR will instruct the referee on the field to watch a replay on the pitch-side monitor where they can watch a slow-motion action replay of the incident in question and then decide whether appropriate action needs to be taken to overrule.

Image courtesy of Sky Sports

As explained on the official Premier League website discussing the use of VAR: “the VAR philosophy in the Premier League is “minimum interference – maximum benefit”. Something many those in and outside of the game take umbrage with, as this just hasn’t been the case in many Premier League games, with VAR stepping in for almost every decision. Let’s just say the official wording certainly hasn’t always helped the Premier League and PGMOL in their defence of VAR.




Those actually playing or pretty close to the game have their views on VAR, of course. Many of them eek of puzzlement and some have explicitly stated this bewilderment.





Bewilderment and a general sense of confusion sums it all up for the players one would guess. As many have given an insight to on Twitter, it’s clear VAR has had an impact on the way the game is now being played. That niggling thought of getting a goal overruled for a miniscule offside shout, a handball five minutes before you scored, not being able to celebrate properly until the VAR has done their checks etcetera…

The best insight into how on Earth this must be affecting the players is to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. This insight came when Spurs defender Eric Dier spoke in an interview with The Guardian back in October 2020: “My stance has always been that with anything factual, I want VAR,” he says. “So, [for] goal technology, the offside rule – I want VAR. But anything that is of an opinion, I’d rather not have it.” Now this is intriguing as many would argue football is a game packed with opinions, a subjective game full of twists and turns, outrage and plenty of ‘the referee’s a ****er’ chants, so it seems interesting that Dier believes there’s a void where opinion doesn’t enter into the realm of decision-making.

One would imagine that many referees disagree with one another over certain decisions. Take the Mike Dean debacle when he sent off West Ham’s Tomáš Souček against Fulham in February for an elbow, many referees would have, surely, disagreed with that decision. The red was rescinded after all, so the FA must have believed it was wrong. Another howler for VAR, many noted, after the replays didn’t really justify the decision to even review the incident in the first place. Utter confusion.  

Image courtesy of Canal+Sport Direct/Premier League

 The England international went on to add: “I’d rather live with the human error of the referee I can accept a referee making a judgment and sometimes getting it wrong. I can’t accept it being wrong when VAR is involved. But even with VAR, when it comes to tackles, handballs, 50% agree with it and 50% don’t.” The fact that he thinks that maybe VAR should be used for certain calls such as the offside rule, but not with tackles and the like, is particularly intriguing. He’s right about not accepting decisions that are still objectively wrong when VAR intervenes, it’s a bit baffling how that can really happen after it glazes over so many sets of eyes. Maybe we will get to a stage where we only use VAR for certain aspects of the game and not others?

Premier League bosses are no different than the players and pundits and have been keen to share their views on VAR’s use, often not holding back with their comments.

Video courtesy of PA Media

One would imagine the scariest aspect for someone such as Scott Parker, as the figurehead of Fulham, is how just one contentious VAR decision could keep them up or condemn them to relegation this year.

It’s not just Parker who’s been talking about VAR, almost Premier League manager has had their say this season. Some have posited how it’s having a real killing effect on the game, such as Parker, whereas others have tried to etch out the positives – drawing on how VAR hasn’t been given the requisite time to bed in and is much needed despite criticism.

Many PL bosses have been singing from the same hymn sheet, as you would expect. Over on Tyneside, Steve Bruce said that: “VAR is “ruining the game,” Saint’s boss Ralph Hasenhüttl essentially agreed but just changed the adjective when he argued: “VAR is destroying the game.” Former Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder remarked how he was “[unsure] whether to laugh or cry” following a “Sunday league” decision where VAR didn’t intervene after Goal Line Technology encountered an error, West Ham’s David Moyes revealed his stance after stating that he’s: “…angry that this is the way football’s gone.” 

Image courtesy of PA Media

I used to be one of the people who said, ‘Yes, VAR is a good idea’ but I’m really not sure if I would say that again”

Jurgen Klopp

Liverpool FC Manager

Some managers have taken a slightly different stance, however, highlighting their fanaticism for VAR but have called for its transparency and operation to be looked at. Sean Dyche, now the longest serving manager of a Premier League team currently (taking charge of Burnley in 2012), called for exactly this when asked for his thoughts in March: “I’m actually a fan of VAR, the streamlining and the way it’s used can be affected in a more positive direction, but I’m a fan of the idea. All managers just want parity. There’s not enough of that at the moment.” It’s hard to disagree with Dyche when he talks about parity, with many teams having felt hard done by VAR in the past two seasons, and how decision-making with VAR currently doesn’t always feel like a level playing field. Especially when they can’t always see how the decisions are being made.

Video courtesy of PA Media

One could argue that many critiques of VAR, especially those from the fan sector, don’t always consider the views of those actually making the decisions. Instead choosing to insult instead of actually analysing what it is the referee or VARs are having to do. Look, of course fans have the right to insult and criticise, it’s just not always the most profound nor helpful. At the end of the day, football is for the fans and referees do understand that. From a refereeing perspective, those possessing the whistles and flags have been reluctant to speak out about VAR, can you blame them? Former referees, however, have been providing interesting insights throughout the season. Peter Walton aside.  

Keith Hackett, a former Premier League referee and ex-head of the PGMOL, has had plenty to say on the matter and has provided a menagerie of interesting views.

“I’m very much for VAR. You want to improve the accuracy of decision-making. If you’re reliant on one guy who could well be obstructed in their view or caught out of position, then decisions will be missed. [But] in this country, VAR is not working as well as it could. For me we need an improvement to the human elements of VAR.

“We’ve got the usual relationship in the tier system [which is problematic with VAR]. For instance, say we have Martin Atkinson, the most experienced referee in the Premier League currently, and then we have another less experienced official such as Simon Hooper telling the other guy he might have made mistakes. That relationship is fraught with problems.

One of the most prominent arguments surrounding VAR is that the standard of refereeing isn’t good enough in England and VAR is just highlighting this issue. This line of thinking makes total sense. At the end of the day, it’s still humans that are doing the operating and making the final decisions.

“What they’re not working on here is the relationship between [the] VAR and [the on-field] referee. Just like you have good referees, you have good VAR operators and those that are more inferior. It’s not the equipment that’s the problem here. The problem is that [the on-field referee] needs to come to terms with the fact that they remain the decision-maker and they’re not. I think what they’re doing is succumbing to the guy sat at Stockley Park,” Hackett added.

Another element people try and argue is that the laws of the game aren’t up to scratch enough to successfully accommodate VAR. Some good substance that adds to this is the fact that the laws have been adapted throughout the season due to compromising VAR calls, such as handball for example. Of course, handball is a grey area in itself, but VAR has certainly perpetuated the troubles it can, and has been causing. 

Mark Clattenburg, former Premier League referee, had his say on this aspect of VAR in an interview with the BBC at the end of 2020: “The laws of the game are old, and they are not compatible with technology. We need to change the laws for VAR.” He also went on to add: “we need to come back down to what we all wanted VAR for – to stop the scandal decision. The decisions that we can’t accept because the referee has missed it.”

The only ‘current’ Premier League official who has had something to say on the matter of VAR thus far is assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis. “I never want to leave a ground thinking I cost that team three points,” she said. “VAR has been brought in to stop that error. As a referee we never want to affect the outcome of the game,” she explained, in an interview with Sky Sports in March. She also gave an insight into how VAR has changed the way the assistant now has to operate: “…now instead of saying ‘offside’ [straight away], I’m saying ‘delay! Stop, keep your flag down!’ I sometimes want to get some stones in my hands, so I don’t put the flag up too quick. “It was a really steep learning curve, you know, trying to change what you’ve been doing for the last 20 years.”

“[Referees] look like they have been programmed like robots. They are briefed like mad; they are programmed to the nth degree, they are frightened to death.”

Gary Neville

Sky Sports Pundit


It’s obvious that VAR has had an effect on Premier League games themselves not just the humans involved, despite the minimum interference mantra that was well publicised when it was brought in. As in, games are playing out differently directly because of VAR. Not always in a bad sense, but the correlation is definitely there. Some teams have had more involvement with VAR than others, as well.

What you must be thinking is how has each club been affected by VAR? Well, thanks to ESPN’s general editor Dale Johnson (who’s been tracking this data throughout the season) we can get an idea of just who’s been benefiting and who hasn’t. At the time of writing this piece, the current statistics for ‘most overturned net score’ decisions are as follows: Burnley +5, Chelsea +3, Everton +3, Brighton & Hove Albion +2, Leeds +2, Manchester City +2, Crystal Palace +1, Fulham +1, Newcastle +1, Sheffield United +1, Aston Villa 0, Leicester City 0, Southampton 0, West Ham 0, Manchester United -1, Tottenham Hotspur -2, Wolves -2, Arsenal -5, Liverpool -5, West Brom -6.

In terms of the type of decisions VAR have been ruling on the most, here’s the data: Total overturns: 100, Rejected overturns: 5, Leading to goals: 28, Leading to disallowed goals: 30, Penalties awarded: 23 (5 missed), Pens for handball: 11, Penalties overturned: 20, Penalties retakes (GK encroach): 3, Goals ruled out for offside: 23, Goals awarded after incorrect offside: 7, Goals ruled out for handball: 4 (1 in build-up), Goals allowed after wrong handball: 0, Goals ruled out for a foul: 2, Red cards: 14, Overturned red cards: 2, Mistaken identity: 1 & DOGSO (Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) cancelled: 1.

For an in-depth and the most up-to-date look at the stats in full be sure to follow this link: What this data tells us, more than anything, is that VAR has certainly been very heavily involved in the action this season and, if anything, striving further and further away from the ‘minimal intervention’ mantra.

Image courtesy of ESPN

At the end of last season (19/20), the first full season in which VAR was in use, Premier League chief executive Richard Masters reported that VAR was delivering on the “principal reason” for its introduction in improving the accuracy of decision-making. “In key match incidents we are up to 94% accuracy with officials, 97% with their assistants, so we are seeing an impact on results and a positive impact on the league table,” he said.

I think, when talking about how much VAR has affected the Premier League since its introduction, ‘the affect’ cannot be much clearer when it comes to the supporters of the game. And when you hear their reasons why, you can see exactly why. Fan consensus is pretty clear, if Twitter is anything to go by. FansAgainstVAR on Twitter is especially clear in their views, setting up a petition to set about the removal of VAR and spelling out a number of reasons as to why football with VAR is just not what the fans want. You can find his petition here:

“Ever since I heard about it, even in concept before I’d even seen it, I was against it. Just because it fundamentally goes against what football is about for me.  A fan [now] has to go through a checklist of: was it offside, was there a handball in the build-up etc. That’s not what football is about, for me.

“…VAR is so against the fan experience in the ground. You can’t celebrate the goals and you have no idea what is going on. You’re left with this feeling as a fan [in a ground] not knowing whether to celebrate and even the players don’t know whether to or not either. VAR is bad generally, for the game, [but] for [the] fans most of all.

“There are specific things I really, really don’t like about VAR. Such as for offsides where they are willing to look at it in millimetres, which I don’t like for various reasons. It discriminates against good attacking play and if it takes them a long time to tell that he [a player] should be onside then it just ruins the game. I think they should [be given the benefit of the doubt] in all situations.

“I hate what VAR represents and how it microanalyses the game. It’s turned football from an art into a science. It’s not what I and other fans grew up loving football for. 100 percent of fans who go to games don’t care about 100 percent accuracy. We care about the moments that made us all football fans in the first place.

Many Premier League fans share Adam’s opinions. It’s very clear the large majority of fans dislike VAR too. In a poll for BBC Sport back in December 2020, only a third of football fans across the UK said thought VAR had made football better. The poll, which had a sample of 2,100 fans, carried out by Savanta ComRes, showed that while 30% of fans thought it’s improved the game, 44% of fans actually think it’s made football worse. While most fans were (pre-Covid) now given the option of seeing VAR decisions on screen – whether in the stadium (although not at stadia such as Anfield or Old Trafford) or watching on TV – almost half of fans in the survey said they believe the introduction of VAR has made football less exciting.

Some other statistics found in the study included: 36% of supporters aged 18-34 believed VAR has made football better, compared with 29% of fans aged 55 and over. 59% of fans aged 55 and over said VAR is making football worse. Arsenal fans (44%) were more likely to believe that VAR has made football better, while 37% of Chelsea fans, 34% of Liverpool fans and 32% of Manchester United fans felt it had improved the game.

However, there’s been plenty of Premier League football since the beginning of December, and within that couple of months there’s been a growing sense of discomfort towards VAR, if Twitter is anything to go by anyway. Not just that but, as the stats from ESPN demonstrated, a lot of teams have had decisions go against them. To get a more updated view on the BBC’s survey, here’s the results of another created by yours truly.

Now what is most intriguing is out of a sample in this survey of 65, over three quarters who support a Premier League team, 60% are against VAR and another 35% are on the fence. Just under 5% said they fully approve. That’s quite something and is a very worrying set of statistics.

63.1% said it ruined their enjoyment of Premier League fixtures, 32.3% said it sometimes ruined their enjoyment and only 4.6% said that VAR didn’t actively ruin it. On whether VAR has improved the quality of decision-making in the Premier League, which what it was billed to try and achieve/improve, 78.5% said it hasn’t with the remaining 21.5% concluding that VAR has improved decision-making. When asked ‘do you think the VAR process is transparent enough or could more be done?’, 61.5% said it isn’t transparent, 36.9% responded ‘not enough is being done – more could be done’ and only 1 respondent (1.5%) believed VAR was completely transparent. 

However, it was almost 50/50 in terms of actually getting rid of VAR. That’s much more positive. It’s clear that those on the fence are willing to stick by it, but make some important changes. These adaptions, suggested by those who voted to keep, included hearing referee and VAR communication (something that is being discussed to be available post-match in from next season), less VAR intervention, improving the camera angles available, not delaying flag raising with offsides (an argument perpetuated recently by Rui Patricio’s injury in Wolves’ defeat against Liverpool), time restrictions on VAR reviews to limit game disruption, more training for referees and VARs, refinement of the laws to accommodate VAR and last, but by no means least, introducing an “Umpire’s Call” style decision with offsides giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacker on close decisions.

It could be the case that many of these suggestions won’t even be considered by those in charge as it’s clear that they believe it’s working. Although, it must be said, we’ve seen adaptions been made already by the PGMOL with certain aspects of VAR, such as the pitch side monitor now being used on a more regular basis than previously.  

Video courtesy of PA Media

Some managers have taken a slightly different stance, however, highlighting their fanaticism for VAR but have called for its transparency and operation to be looked at. Sean Dyche, now the longest serving manager of a Premier League team currently (taking charge of Burnley in 2012), called for exactly this when asked for his thoughts in March: “I’m actually a fan of VAR, the streamlining and the way it’s used can be affected in a more positive direction, but I’m a fan of the idea. All managers just want parity. There’s not enough of that at the moment.” It’s hard to disagree with Dyche when he talks about parity, with many teams having felt hard done by VAR in the past two seasons, and how decision-making with VAR currently doesn’t always feel like a level playing field. Especially when they can’t always see how the decisions are being made.

“It [goal celebrations] is the one time the fans feel connected to their club and their player when they are celebrating a goal together. Take that away and you lose that connection players have with fans. I personally think the game’s better without it.”

Wayne Rooney - Derby County Boss



“Every weekend, now, there are VAR-led decisions that twist people up, arguments about consistency, flow, an essential forensic charmlessness that has come into the game.”


Even the most potent VAR defenders would have to concede that VAR in the Premier League hasn’t exactly been plain sailing. As has been demonstrated.

For many looking on the introduction of VAR has been an extremely negative one. One would argue the positives only start coming into the equation when critics have started identifying the problems and providing possible suggestions to improve VAR. What one would hope you fellow readers take away from this piece is that VAR is of the height of controversy yes, but the future is yet to be decided. Many parties think they have all the answers, others think otherwise. It’s all to be worked out.

Change is so clearly needed it hurts. VAR needs improvement. Refinement. All of the above.

It will, more than likely, get worse before it gets any better, but we can only hope that the Premier League take a long, hard look at how they are using VAR sooner rather than later. For everyone’s sake. Fan, coach, referee or player alike. So yes, what effect VAR has had? A negative one.

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