sport news MARTIN SAMUEL COLUMN: VAR would work fine... if it wasn't run by referees

My grandfather had an unusual take on authority. He thought that the very desire to be a policeman should instantly disqualify a person from entering the force. His distrust of law enforcers and rule makers was widely extended.

He believed the desire to become a politician should prevent a person standing for parliament and felt the same way about the rules committee at his golf club. 

Anyone who sought power should not be allowed anywhere near it. He had about as much respect for law and order as the Marx brothers.

The purple screens of VAR have dominated talk for the entirety of the Premier League season

The purple screens of VAR have dominated talk for the entirety of the Premier League season

Supporters are forced to wait, with limited information, while every goal is scrutinised by VAR

Supporters are forced to wait, with limited information, while every goal is scrutinised by VAR

This was probably why he didn't end up as chief executive of his own recruitment agency. Indeed, quite how his police force, or government, of the unwilling was supposed to function we never found out. Through the laughter, the swearing and a haze of Cadets cigarette smoke, we didn't get round to the finer details.

The old man did have a point about those who love nothing more than being in charge, though. Who has messed up VAR in the Premier League? Referees.

Get them out of it and it would probably have worked just fine.

It is Mike Riley and friends who are addicted to armpit offsides and disallowing goals for an accidental handball 40 yards upfield. It is the officials who have made this all about the relentless application of laws with no real regard for what is fair or just, or for the spirit of the sport.

At Tottenham on Saturday, a lengthy inquest took place following Roberto Firmino¿s goal

At Tottenham on Saturday, a lengthy inquest took place following Roberto Firmino's goal

There is no player, manager or fan who does not possess a plain sense of what VAR was intended to address. The clear and obvious. Mistakes that can be quickly identified and corrected without a disruptive influence or further travesty. Even the erroneous award of a corner, for instance. 

Yet at Tottenham on Saturday, a lengthy inquest took place after Roberto Firmino's goal was scored in case there had been a handball in the build-up. This handball would have been entirely accidental and unavoidable. Yet it would have been enough to disallow the goal.

Meanwhile, an obvious error — that the Liverpool throw-in which started the move should have gone Spurs' way — was missed.

So VAR is delivering the opposite of what had been hoped. Rather than serving the sport, its participants and supporters, it has become the referee's fevered dream, to identify an offside to the nearest millimetre.

Yet this was never demanded. We need to divorce referees from VAR and only then will it work for us. Take the handball rule. We all understood why it was introduced. Last season, during a match between Wolves and Manchester City, defender Willy Boly scored with his hand. 

He didn't mean to. Joao Moutinho whipped in a cross, Boly stooped to head it at the far post, missed and instead diverted the ball into the net illegally. There was no attempt to cheat, it was just an accident. But the goal stood and, plainly, that wasn't right. 

Last season Willy Boly accidentally scored with his hand, causing greater scrutiny of rules

Last season Willy Boly accidentally scored with his hand, causing greater scrutiny of rules

Supporters of various teams have already started to express their dissatisfaction at matches

Supporters of various teams have already started to express their dissatisfaction at matches

So it became illegal to score with your hand — even unintentionally. And then referees got involved. Now, a season later, there is a situation where a ball strikes Declan Rice's arm, unavoidably, in the build-up to a goal for West Ham at Sheffield United.

Anywhere else on the pitch, in any other circumstances, it would be no offence, because the ball was headed from close range by an opposition player, John Egan, in a melee with no opportunity to get out of the way. 

Rice was running, his arm was in a natural position and he probably wasn't even aware the ball had hit it. The move progressed and he played in Robert Snodgrass, who equalised. But it was no goal because of that handball.

To clarify, had the positions been reversed — had Rice headed the ball against Egan from close range in the area — no penalty would have resulted because it would have been accepted that it was impossible to avoid.

So this is where we are now. Some arms are active, others are not. And the advantage is never with the attacking, scoring team.

Only referees can do this. No fan, player or coach would reach this conclusion.

The same with offside. Everyone knew what was required of VAR there. It was to eradicate mistakes and travesties. It was not to deliver a slide-rule measurement that after four minutes of replays detect an infringing armpit.

At Stockley Park, officials pore over minute detail with some calls coming down to millimetres

At Stockley Park, officials pore over minute detail with some calls coming down to millimetres

Left to any other group beside referees, VAR could have worked. They are at odds with the rest of the football community over what is important, over what embodies football's spirit. Benefit of the doubt to the attacking team.

Everyone loved that guideline, yet it has been wiped overnight. Graeme Souness was more in touch when he argued if any part of a player is onside, he should be counted as onside, too.

Just as in cricket players talk of a dead track as a 'chief executive's wicket' because it guarantees five days' play and revenue, so this season brings a 'referee's VAR' because it obsesses over minute distinctions that are only significant to the rule-obsessed. 

Sheffield United's goal at Tottenham in November, for instance, would never have been disallowed by any fan, player or coach. Only referees would seek to measure the alignment of toes. Indeed, only referees would devise a system that checked every goal whether controversial or not, for the hint of an infringement. 'Ooh, they've scored — let's see if we can disallow it.' What fan would come up with that strategy?

Head of referees, Mike Riley, has seen VAR unfold around a relentless application of laws

Head of referees, Mike Riley, has seen VAR unfold around a relentless application of laws

There was, no doubt, some truth in Rice's view that every Premier League player wants VAR scrapped. Maybe not every, but most. Yet this is a pity because it could have succeeded.

Had it calculated priorities, had it addressed injustices rather than created new ones, had it listened to those who play, those who coach, those who watch, it might have been celebrated by now, like three points for a win.

Instead, they left the rule-making to those who love nothing more than making rules.

No wonder it's an effing disaster, I can hear someone say, between puffs.

Yes, England have worked Kane hard, but so has Mourinho

Jose

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