Referees’ chief Mike Riley has reiterated his commitment to protecting the match-going experience of Premier League fans.
The Video Assistant Referee system has come in for heavy criticism from clubs and supporters alike over lengthy delays and a lack of clarity over precisely what is being looked at.
But next month more detailed information will be provided during VAR checks and Riley, the managing director of referees’ body Professional Game Match Officials Limited, is confident the lengthy stoppages will soon be minimised.
He said: “We are trying constantly to balance the accurate decision-making and the benefits we get from that, with not impacting adversely on the fans’ and player experience in the stadium.
“We are acutely conscious we don’t want stoppages of three minutes if we can avoid it, but at the same time when you end up with three or four offside events leading up to a goal, we have to get that right.”
Riley revealed he is in dialogue with other leagues using VAR and said the message from everyone is “let’s try and improve the experience of fans in the stadium and improve the information we provide”.
From December, supporters can expect to be given more information about what is being checked and instead of stadium screens displaying ‘Checking Penalty’ it will read, for example, ‘Checking Penalty – Possible Handball’.
The former professional referee is proud the Premier League remains the only league to show replays of incidents being checked by VAR and highlighted when it was recently used very well.
“Take Southampton vs Leicester where Andre (Marriner, referee) saw the (Ryan Bertrand) tackle, thought it was a yellow card, but played an advantage and the result was a goal,” Riley explained.
“VAR can watch live play, advise a goal has been scored and look at the tackle and correctly advise Andre that actually it should not be a yellow card, it was a red card offence and that process took about 40 seconds.
“He makes the TV signal and shows the red card and as soon as he does the graphic goes up in the stadium and you see the replay.
“Then everyone saw the Southampton fans’ reaction. They all gasped and you changed their view of ‘why has our player been sent off?’ to ‘I can see clearly why our player has been sent off’, and it changed the whole environment in the stadium.”
Although this was a positive use of VAR, there have been negatives and Riley is aware of the need to improve in terms of the consistency of decision-making, the efficiency of the process and the stadium communication.
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino was flagged offside before putting the ball in the net against Aston Villa and the decision was confirmed by VAR— Premier League (@premierleague) November 2, 2019
The red line signifies Firmino and was aligned to his armpit, which was marginally ahead of the last Villa defender#AVLLIV pic.twitter.com/a2OnNWnz2E
He added: “We are all in the same place which is ‘let’s try and improve the experience of fans in the stadium and improve the information we provide’, because the more we do that, the more we get everybody’s engagement.”
Riley did confirm he was hopeful of speaking with ex-Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger in the future.
Wenger recently accepted a role as FIFA’s new chief of global football development and part of his work will see him involved in the improvement of laws alongside the International Football Association Board.