The man in charge of VAR in the Premier League, Neil Swarbrick, insists the new technology is working properly and has urged angry fans, managers, players and pundits to ‘stick with us’ while they iron out the creases.
Swarbrick has offered his official verdict on the two biggest decisions from another hugely controversial weekend of top flight action – Manchester City having two penalty appeals for handball turned down at Liverpool and Sheffield United having a goal ruled out for a marginal offside at Tottenham.
Pep Guardiola was raging at officials during City’s 3-1 defeat at Anfield on Sunday after it appeared Reds right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold had twice handled the ball in the area during the match.
The first incident, which saw the ball first ricochet off Bernardo Silva’s arm before hitting Alexander Arnold’s, attracted the greater focus because within 30 seconds Liverpool had sprinted up the pitch and opened the scoring through a thunderbolt strike from Fabinho.
The decision went to VAR and the goal stood, despite City’s protests.
Meanwhile, Sheffield United were denied a vital equaliser in their match against Tottenham on Saturday in a decision talkSPORT Adrian Durham branded ‘absolute garbage’.
David McGoldrick thought he’d equalised for the Blades after Heung-min Son’s opener, but the goal was ruled out by the VAR crew at Stockley Park as John Lundstram was ruled offside much earlier on in the attacking move.
It was the tightest offside call of the season yet, with Lundstram appearing to be offside by a toe’s length. United later scored again to end the game 1-1, but they might have won had their earlier goal been given.
However, Swarbrick insists both of the decisions were correct.
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT, the VAR chief said: “The offside call at Tottenham vs Sheffield United, it was offside with the technology we’ve got and utilise. It was the right decision.
“The handball at Liverpool vs Man City, that was a subjective call. [Match referee] Michael Oliver 100 per cent knew it hit Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm.
“It was from a short distance, his arm did not move towards the ball and it was not deliberate. His arm was in a natural position for his body position at that time and he was happy for that to go.
“The VAR looked at it and listened to what Michael said and was comfortable with his decision, he didn’t deem it to be a clear and obvious error.
“People are jumping on it saying they were two massively controversial incidents, but from our point of view I don’t think we’d do anything differently.”
The Premier League has faced increasing pressure to scrap VAR since its introduction at the beginning of the season, but none more so than after this weekend.
Trevor Sinclair has warned that top managers, like Guardiola, and players may look to leave English football should the current controversy continues, while Jurgen Klopp told a UEFA coaches’ summit on Monday that something must be done to improve it.
But Swarbrick has defended the system, insisting in particular that the offside decisions they make at Stockley Park ARE consistent and there can be no leeway for tight calls – you’re either offside, or you’re not.
“Until the laws of the game are potentially changed for VAR decisions, this is what we’ve got,” he explained.
“With the technology we’re using if we’ve got evidence that the attacker is closer to the goal than the second rearmost defender, that’s what we operate with.
“At the moment within the laws of the game there is no tolerance band, you can’t say they’re allowed three inches to be closer than the second rearmost defender, we can’t do that. Even if you so bring in a tolerance band of three inches, what happens when they’re offside by 3.1 inches?
“All we can do is work with the laws of the game and use the equipment we’ve got.
“I’ll use another scenario of a LBW decision in cricket, the ball-tracking software they use is not 100 per cent accurate. It’s exactly the same with football, it’s just that everyone jumps on the bandwagon when it’s such a tight offside call.
“We can only use the technology we’ve got. Once we’ve set the lines and they turn red and blue, that’s where we are, we then go to the laws of the game and if any part of the attacker’s body that can score a goal is nearer to the goalline than the second rearmost defender, it’s offside. That’s what we have to work to.
“People say they want consistency, but we’re using the same technology for every offside decision every time and coming up with a definitive answer, yet people still aren’t happy with it.”
Swarbrick acknowledges the widespread doubt cast on VAR and admitted ‘teething problems’ were inevitable.
But he has urged people to be patient, insisting they are ‘working’ on making it more effective.
“We were the last European league to utilise VAR, it had to come in at some point,” he added.
“There was always going to be teething problems, we said that from the outset. It’s not going to be 100 per cent perfect from the outset.
“But we are working with it, it’s a work in progress. We will look to improve certain elements going forward.
“Just stick with us.”
Listen to a clip of talkSPORT’s interview with VAR chief Neil Swarbrick above
Published at Tue, 12 Nov 2019 11:35:00 +0000