Referee chief explains plan for more VAR access – but “we can’t play it live”

Referees chief Howard Webb says airing conversations between on-pitch officials and VARs concerning key Premier League incidents is likely to become a regular event.

Webb talked through some of the two-way audio discussions from this season on Monday evening during a pilot feature alongside Sky Sports pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher.

Incidents dissected by the trio included disallowed goals for Chelsea‘s Kai Havertz and Arsenal‘s Leandro Trossard against Liverpool and Leicester, respectively, plus the overturning of a penalty for an adjudged handball by Gunners defender Jakub Kiwior in their 2-0 win at Newcastle on May 7.

“We’re looking to do this as much as we possibly can and obviously tonight is something new,” said Webb, the chief refereeing officer at Professional Game Match Officials Limited.

“We’re making a small step forward. Going forward into next season, we will be looking to do more of the same.

“We can’t play it live, that’s not allowed in the laws of the game, FIFA don’t allow us to play this out during the game. Who knows where that might go in the future?

“But there’s nothing to stop us doing what we’re doing tonight and showing it later.

“I hope tonight has been a good insight as we’ve drawn that curtain back to reveal the way the officials work together as a team and some of the rationale for some of the decisions that have been taken.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 19, 2021: Referee Paul Tierney checks the VAR monitor before sending off Liverpool's Andy Robertson during the FA Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

“We’ve tried to show you a range of situations and going forward we’re looking to do more of the same.”

Incidents selected for the programme almost unanimously reflected favourably on the use of VAR.

Viewers could hear ongoing dialogue between on-field officials and those at Stockley Park as decisions were debated and reviewed.

Other incidents analysed were the overturning of an offside against Joelinton in Newcastle‘s 5-1 win at West Ham last month and a penalty given to Brentford in their 2-0 success over Bournemouth in January.

The spot-kick – awarded by referee Jarred Gillett for Marcos Senesi’s adjudged tug on Ivan Toney – was the only contentious incident analysed.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, May 6, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp speaks with the fourth official during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brentford FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Webb admitted the decision was incorrect as Bees striker Toney had initially fouled Cherries defender Senesi. He blamed process rather than judgement due to the footage reviewed by VAR not beginning early enough.

“In this situation, we see a foul by Ivan Toney on Senesi just before Senesi puts his arm across Ivan Toney,” said Webb.

“It was checked by the VAR but actually this was an issue around process really where the sequence the VAR looked at didn’t start early enough, it didn’t quite show how that contact came to happen, it was already happening when he started to look at it.

“It’s a matter of process, as opposed to judgement, on this one. This should have been penalised with a free-kick to Bournemouth.

“We’ve got to get it right as VAR. We’ve got this tool to see this and it’s clear and therefore we should step in.”