With no more transfer stories to dominate the headlines, Premier League football has found a stunning new way to remain on the front page.
There can be no denying that the standard of refereeing and officiating at the highest level has declined significantly over the past couple of seasons, and the implementation of VAR – Video Assistant Refereeing – is one part of the problem.
VAR technology was intended to break new ground in the game and eradicate ‘clear and obvious’ errors. However, while clubs, fans and players alike seek greater clarity regarding decisions, VAR has instead brought confusion.
Yet with VAR proving increasingly problematic, one would hope that the standard of refereeing would remain at peak levels. Sadly, that is not the case. A number of grievances have already been raised this season, most recently by Arsenal and Southampton, following a series of controversial decisions on Tuesday night.
Arsenal felt aggrieved by the decision by referee Craig Pawson to show David Luiz a straight red card for a challenge on Wolves’ attacker Willian Jose.
Southampton, meanwhile, lost Jan Bednarek to an early red card in an astonishing 9-0 drubbing against Manchester United. They had previously been on the receiving end of a controversial decision against Aston Villa.
Except while both sides declared their intentions to appeal the respective decisions, Southampton remarkably went a step further and requested that Mike Dean or Lee Mason do not officiate any of their games.
We’ve seen criticism before, but we have not seen anything quite like this.
Frankly, something has to be done about the declining standards of officiating. It’s the Premier League, not Sunday league. Big decisions are being missed or neglected, and it is impacting upon results.
Managers normally say their piece in the media at risk of a personal fine, though no one, until Southampton, has had the guts to step up and take it even further.
It’s a shocking twist to an already intriguing story, and it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Will Southampton face any punishment for their quite public outburst?
Premier League clubs are not officially able to request that certain referees do not take charge of their games, however, the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) does have the power to consider various factors when making appointments.
It all seems to have been blown out of proportion a little, but in all honesty, this could be the kick the Premier League needs to finally buck this unflattering trend.
If things do change for the better in the coming weeks, we may well look back and credit Southampton for fighting back. Alternatively, Southampton could be made an example of.
Let’s hope it’s the former, because the collective unit that is on-field officials, VAR and PGMOL are embarrassing themselves week in, week out. Not just in their use of technology but also in their response to such incidents.
VAR is still not being used in an appropriate manner. It must be used judiciously, for example for the clear and obvious errors. Instead, the process of reviewing and making decisions is taking too long, and it’s sucking the joy out of games.
Refereeing is no easy job, and the occasional error could perhaps be forgiven if there was an end to the madness. But this is getting ridiculous. It’s about time the Premier League was not only entitled to the best players and best managers in the game, but also the best referees.