Luis Diaz’s disallowed goal against Tottenham on Saturday should represent a watershed moment not only for refereeing and the implementation of VAR, but for football in general.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be the case.
Tribalism means the usual excuses are being rolled out, mainly that it’s just Liverpool fans complaining again, or making false equivalences about wrong decisions being given against THEIR team at any given moment.
Or journalists who should know better mocking the concept of the game being replayed, despite the fact that no-one has actually requested that, or believes that it would ever happen.
These disingenuous statements distract from the main issue here; a catastrophic failure of procedure which made a factual error, not a subjective one, and undermined the viability and decision-making of every referee in the Premier League, whether it likes it or not.
Diaz runs through from an onside position and scores, and the flag subsequently goes up. The check was sent to VAR, there was a mix-up, and rather than overrule the onfield decision, the officials – the referee, assistant, VAR, and assistant VAR – contrived to allow the game to restart.
The fundamental difference between this incident and all other VAR calls is that red cards, handballs, or even some of the more complex vagaries of offside, have subjective elements to them. The rules can be interpreted in different ways.
Indeed in the very same match, Curtis Jones’ red card would appear harsh, but the viewer can also countenance how the referee and the VAR came to that decision. Jones did catch Yves Bissouma on the shin, even if it was his accidental follow through which caused it. It’s controversial, but it’s debatable.
What isn’t debatable – or at least, what we’ve been told isn’t debatable – is the lines drawn across the pitch to determine whether a player is onside or not. I have had my own concerns about what VAR has done to the offside rule and how it has warped how players can make runs, and whether or not they should be punished for millimetre decisions.
But at the very least the geometric process of drawing across the pitch had a feeling of finality; either you’re on, or you’re not. But in a single moment we’ve been given the option to question each and every one of them, and when it comes to football fans, there’s very little coming back from that.
To be clear, VAR isn’t the entire problem here. The application of it takes too long and has interrupted the flow of the game to an unacceptable degree. But in the main it has corrected penalty decisions, rescinded red cards and generally supports officials to the level that a video system should.
The problem is that the mode of operation is now irrevocably broken. In a single incident we know that it doesn’t matter how many officials are positioned around the screen, there’s a chance that every one will stay quiet and allow the wrong decision to occur.
We know that in the past referees have refused to overrule each other or in the case of Mike Dean, cause another referee ‘more grief’. There’s already a deep brotherhood of protection and that means that bad decisions will continue to happen because these humans care more about the reputations of their collective rather than the integrity of the game itself. There’s millions upon millions at stake, and yet their friendship takes precedence – that’s the clear and obvious error here.
So rather than just accepting this, we should demand a higher standard. Football is a low-scoring game. These decisions hold way more impact on the final result than say NBA or NFL. A penalty award with a modern xG of close to 80% likelihood of scoring can decide an otherwise tight contest.
And there has to be far more transparency. Referees have long refrained from explaining themselves to the public, and even now VAR in a stadium is an unedifying experience, with fans kept in the dark as to the reason why they’ve celebrated a goal that no longer stands.
READ MORE: PGMOL set to release audio of VAR blunder in Liverpool’s defeat to Tottenham
And some referees now simply take a back seat. They’ve gotten lazy. They allow the VAR to decide and keep themselves out of the process. Assistants, for example, are now moot – they only put the flag up after the attack has ended. There’s no decision being made here.
So this isn’t about Liverpool, or even about referees, it’s about the entire culture of football itself, from the fans, to the players, to the referees, to the results. It’s all interlinked. And it’s time for a reckoning.