Wolves head coach Nuno Espirito Santo has welcomed the introduction of VAR to the Premier League.
Video Assistant Referee is an extra official who watches a match from as many angles as there are cameras and tells the referee if he or she has made a ‘clear and obvious’ error in one of four crucial decisions – awarding a goal, a penalty, a red card, or in a case of mistaken identity.
The controversial system, which was used in the FA Cup ties at Premier League grounds last season and in this summer’s Women’s World Cup, has been heavily criticised for the time it takes in disrupting and delaying the restart of matches, its inaccuracy and the number of stoppages.
But to allay those concerns, every Premier League manager was invited to VAR HQ in Stockley Park, not far from Heathrow Airport, just before the start of the season. There they were given a walk-through of how the technology is to be used, a plan that follows the culmination of two years of training and a delayed launch which allowed time to watch others get it wrong first.
But as Wolves prepare to kick off their Premier League season with a Midlands derby at Leicester on Sunday, Nuno says he has been re-assured that those issues have been resolved and the flow of the game won’t be affected.
“All of the managers have been in the Premier League meetings, we’re clear about the approach of the VAR and I’m confident,” said the Portuguese. “One of the things I am glad to hear is when those responsible for the VAR say they don’t want to change the tempo of the game.
“It’s so good what we have in the Premier League and nothing can change that. I’m truly confident that everything is going to be OK.”
Nuno, who has a policy of never publicly criticising officials, is also confident that there will be excellent communication between referees and players to help people get used to the new system. “The referees in the Premier League talk to the players, they allow the players to have dialogue and there’s no better thing than that,” he added. “Speak, explain and the players are OK. Of course, everything is going to be new in some aspects but I’m confident the managers and the players are clear and they’re OK.”
VAR staff will watches the games live from their hub in Stockley Park alongside an assistant VAR and a Recording Operator (RO). When incidents occur within the four categories listed above, they will inform the referee on the pitch that a check is occurring. They will then review footage from as many angles as is necessary until they are satisfied that no error of the ‘clear and obvious’ variety has occurred (while the VAR does that the assistant will take over watching live, just in case there’s another incident in the meantime). When the check is complete, the VAR will press a big red button on their desk and inform the referee of any new information that might effect their decision. After that, it is up to the man or woman in the middle to make the final decision.
Then, finally the fans get to hear what’s going on. The Premier League have decided that checks will be announced to supporters via graphics on the big screen (in all grounds apart from Anfield and Old Trafford, that is, because weirdly they don’t have big screens). If a decision is overturned, the offending piece of footage will be then be shown too, which could well provide the odd moment of unexpected theatre.
There has already been some drama with the new system – on its debut. In Friday’s Liverpool v Norwich game, there was a five-minute delay to the start of the second half after the referees’ communications system failed.
Referee Michael Oliver experienced interference in his earpiece, which he uses to communicate with the assistant referees, fourth official and video officials. Players and managers had already returned to the pitch with Liverpool leading 4-0 at Anfield. But they endured a lengthy wait as the officials attempted to fix the issue. One of them even put his in the ear of Liverpool midfielder Jordan Henderson to show it had malfunctioned. Sky Sports initially reported the hold-up was down to the inability to contact the VAR base in Stockley Park.