The main talking points of any Premier League weekend should be amazing goals, audacious pieces of skill and thrilling games.
And yet, more often than not it’s VAR – whether it’s questionable overrules, a lack of intervention or just downright human error – that dominates the back pages and social media discourse.
Over the course of a season, you’d like to think these things even themselves out – sometimes you’ll be on the right side of an officiating gaffe, other times you’ll be the victim. That’s modern football’s ying and yang.
But when the error is as cataclysmic as the breakdown in communication that cost Liverpool a goal against Tottenham, it’s hard not to feel extremely hard done by.
Fans of neutral clubs have called upon the Reds fans to let it go: these things happen and you just have to put up with it. But in many cases, they haven’t actually understood the level of incompetence that arguably cost Liverpool one or all three points at Spurs.
Tottenham vs Liverpool VAR: What Actually Happened?
When an incident occurs in a game that is referred to the VAR chief, they use the on-field officials’ decision as the basis for their analysis.
If they think the officials’ original call should stand, they will communicate ‘no change’ to them. If they believe an overturn is required, they will message down to the pitch with their intervention – or at least recommend that the referee checks the pitch side monitor.
So when Luis Diaz broke through the Tottenham defence and scored, before subsequently being adjudged offside, most felt that the VAR team would overturn the on-field decision – something confirmed when Sky Sports showed their own graphics on-screen which confirmed that Diaz was onside.
But here was the rub: the audio from the VAR booth that day, which was helmed by Darren England, reveals that the video referee incorrectly assumed that the goal was awarded by the on-field team.
So after analysing the footage, drawing on the lines and using all of the other bits of snazzy tech at his disposal, England also came to the conclusion that the Colombian was onside.
However, because he misheard or simply wasn’t concentrating, England communicated ‘no change’ to the referee because he thought the original decision was goal – when in fact he needed to press the button marked ‘overrule’.
So the goal didn’t stand and everybody was left with egg on their faces.
Can Games Be Replayed Due to VAR Failure?
England was stood down from his next Premier League game, and has since been barred from officiating any Liverpool games for the rest of the 2023/24 season.
That is a truly bizarre punishment. The PGMOL have admitted England’s guilt, but banning him specifically for Liverpool games is almost an admission of something more sinister – no wonder conspiracy theories amongst some Reds fans have emerged.
More pertinently, Jurgen Klopp has called for the Tottenham game to be replayed, such was the nature of the VAR fail – remember, this wasn’t a subjective decision that’s being argued, this was a catastrophic failure of procedure that could have been rectified within seconds but for some bizarre rules on the speed with which interventions can be made.
And it’s interesting that the VAR rules regarding malfunction or ‘misuse’ do allow for the possibility of a replay. According to IFAB, who are responsible for designing and updating football’s rulebook, a game is ‘not invalidated’ should the VAR tech malfunction or when a wrong decision has been made.
However, that is caveated by the words ‘in principle’, which certainly offers hope that games can be replayed when the failure of VAR officials is procedural and wholly influential on the outcome of the contest.
Has a Premier League Game Ever Been Replayed?
Of course, for the Tottenham vs Liverpool game to be replayed it would need a significant precedent to be set – you suspect that the FA and PGMOL would rather keep that can of worms closed.
Interestingly, Howard Webb – the head of PGMOL – HAS previously allowed a game to be replayed. He was the head of VAR operations in the United States for a few years, where a USL Championship encounter between Miami FC and Pittsburgh was replayed after the VAR team messed up….the contest was later restarted from the 67th minute, which was when the mistake was made.
— Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC (@RiverhoundsSC) October 17, 2021
Thus far, no Premier League game has ever been replayed – although a fifth-round FA Cup tie between Arsenal and Sheffield United was played again in 1999 when Nwankwo Kanu, apparently unbeknown to him, intercepted a throw in that was meant for the Blades after they had sportingly kicked the ball out of play to allow an injured Gunners player to be treated.
On that occasion, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger offered Sheffield United the replay – it’s highly doubtful that Tottenham would follow suit.