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The Chippy: We have a VAR conspiracy theory

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Do the refs hate VAR even more than we do? Plus: The five subs rule is here to stay.

Aston Villa v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images

A VAR conspiracy theory

I’m not here to debate VAR or even really break down the decisions that happened on Thursday. I’m here to share my theory on how the English referees feel about VAR and thus their implementation of it. Just to be clear, this is all a theory from my brain — speculation if you will — and I don’t have any factual evidence to support this. Here we go.

I think the English referees have been against VAR right from the get go. They didn’t like it when it was just an idea being proposed, they didn’t like it when the Premier League decided to implement it, and they still don’t like it now. I think they saw it as undermining their authority; as if we didn’t trust them.

That’s not completely far-fetched. Remember, Premier League refs are good — really good in fact. But even the best of the best referees will only get about 98-99% of their decisions correct. If you make 100 decisions a game, that means you’ll miss one or two. You just have to hope those one or two aren’t big, important decisions.

No one wants to have every decision scrutinized and that’s where the referees are fighting back. It’s almost as if the brotherhood of referees has banded together to trust each other 100% and decided that overturning a decision makes the referee look bad. That’s why there’s seemingly been such a hesitancy from Stockley Park to overturn calls on the field.

Nevertheless, the biggest issue with VAR and the referees (alleged, by me) “protest” against it has been their complete and absolute refusal to go to the monitor. No one has done it yet. This is ridiculous.

There’s nothing wrong with going and taking an extra look at a play. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with the VAR, who has access to more angles and the ability to look at a play more than once, saying that the ref got it wrong. At the very least, they should say “hey, maybe you should take another look at it and you can change your mind.” But the referees seem to think that will make them look bad too.

Take Thursday’s Bruno Fernandes penalty for Manchester United. When I first saw it, I thought it was a penalty. When I saw the first replay, I still thought it was a penalty, but a soft one. By the third replay, and a grand total of about 30 seconds looking at it, I no longer thought it was a penalty.

From the VAR perspective I didn’t think it was a “clear and obvious error” that needed to be overturned. However, I do believe that if Jonathan Moss had gone to the monitor and taken a few looks at it he would have changed his mind and said “no penalty.” That’s fine.

This doesn’t mean we should spend 3-4 minutes going over every decision looking to re-referee it and find out exactly what happened (as they so often do in basketball). Rather, we should go over to the monitor with the assumption that there’s a 90% chance the referee got the decision right. Give the referees 30 seconds to look at the play — if they don’t see enough to second-guess themselves in that time, then the decision stands. If they do, they get another 30 seconds to make a final decision.

But referees aren’t doing this because they hate VAR. And when VAR isn’t used properly it creates controversy, and people get mad and scream that VAR is ruining football. And thus, maybe football’s governing bodies will remove it from the game. Which is precisely what I think the referees are hoping for.

(PS: But actually this offside-by-an-armpit shit has to stop. Get rid of the damn lines. Here’s a better idea: All offside replays are shown in standard definition. If you can look at the fuzzy screen and see that a player is offside, then he’s offside. If you can’t clearly tell, then it’s close enough.)

IFAB to extend five substitutions rule for next season

Five substitutions per match is here to stay. At least for next year. That’s not completely bad — the season is already too long and is going to get condensed even more, and limiting minutes so we don’t have another Marcus Rashford overuse situation is important. But that means that Manchester United (cough Woodward! cough) need to adjust their transfer plans immediately.

Three players just won’t be enough. Hijack Chelsea’s potential move for Kai Havertz. If you’re wondering “how will they all fit into one team?” — Just stop. Injuries, suspensions, and form will take care of that question. If you’re not willing to fight for your place in the squad you shouldn’t be at United anyway.

A team like United is looking to play about 50-60 matches in a season. There’s more than enough matches for everyone.

If we’re in a cup final with a fully fit squad then the boss would have to make a decision but that’s a fine problem to have. Ji-Sung Park didn’t even make the matchday 18 for the 2008 Champions League final because everyone was fully fit. Fabio Da Silva started the 2011 Champions League final because we had injuries. You never know.

It doesn’t just have to be the high profile signings either. Sign depth. Go raid the relegated squads for talent like Todd Cantwell. Players will be cheap because teams need money. Every team is still quoting outrageous prices for their players (£40 million for Nathan Ake) but don’t pay attention to that. They’re doing it for PR; to save face with their fans and not seem like pushovers.

If United are losing in the region of £100 million from COVID-19 I can’t imagine what the smaller clubs are losing, and not having Premier League TV money next season means they need money to keep the lights on. If there are attainable players better than Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, or Andreas Pereira, then United need them if they want to compete.

Being able to use five subs in a game doesn’t mean you have to, but it’s a disadvantage not to. Minutes add up, and we’ve seen — very recently — how clear the drop-off in talent is from our first team to our bench.

Since Odion Ighalo has signed, Anthony Martial has yet to play a full 90 minutes. It may piss him off, but he’s also in the best form of his career. Minutes add up and Solskjaer has managed Martial’s brilliantly.

It may be frustrating to not consistently see our best players playing 90 minutes, but the need to keep them as fresh as possible is more important. This new rule will benefit the big clubs who can stockpile talent, but right now United’s bench doesn’t have enough talent to really take advantage.