In the second part of our interview with PRO Manager of Video Assistant Referee Operations Howard Webb, we look at the success of Video Review, since its implementation in August 2017.
Twice the eyes of the world have been on soccer in America in recent times. Fans of clubs from all around the globe have looked on with anticipation and trepidation. There has been a gap of 13 months between the first live, in-game experiments in a workshop environment and the worldwide trial of Video Review at the Red Bull Arena, involving Ismail Elfath and Allen Chapman, and the first call made in Major League Soccer by Ricardo Salazar.
Inclusive of that moment, the system, championed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, has now been used in 154 domestic matches since August 5, and in that time MLS has averaged 9.6 checks per game.
But how has the rollout of Video Review in a competitive competition fared in reality?
“We’ve done pretty well,” reflected Webb. “We’ve had a couple of situations that have not quite gone to plan, but that’s inevitable with a system like this that is new and challenging, and I’m sure everybody around the world faces similar issues.
“We’ll keep working on those; the education continues. Every time we had a round of matches, I gave feedback to the guys: we shared clips and discussed Video Review at every meeting. Our biggest challenge from day one has been gaining consistency.
“We’ll get more efficient; all those sorts of things will come as we go along. The consistency is critical and keeping the threshold high, making sure we don’t intervene on things we don’t need to get involved with.
“We’ve been able to rectify 36 clear errors and turn them into correct final decisions that wouldn’t have otherwise been changed, and we’ve done it in a way that has not changed how the game is being played. It hasn’t had too much interference or impact. There is an average of one review every three MLS games – we’re checking about 10 situations every game, but only intervening when there is a clear and obvious error.
“I believe our biggest success is that we’ve introduced it in a way that hasn’t changed how the game is being played and we’ve given our officials an extra tool to ensure they’re not making clear errors.”
Total games: 154
Total checks: 1,482
Total reviews: 50
Average checks per game: 9.6
Average reviews per game: 0.32
PRO official Mark Geiger was the VAR for the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup Final on December 16, and currently testing is ongoing with Germany, Italy and Portugal all using it for the first time during their current seasons, joining the Australian A-League, MLS and South Korea’s K-League who introduced it in 2017. As with the Dutch Super Cup, it is being used in England, in the latter stages of cup competitions – the FA Cup and League Cup – this month, as well.
With The IFAB studying the progress of live Video Review implementation in MLS and in other leagues, the first full season of using the system in MLS this year will represent another significant test, as The IFAB looks to make a final decision of formally incorporating the VAR initiative into the Laws of the Game by 2018 or 2019 at the latest.
“We put so much time and effort into the preparation of this that we didn’t go live until we thought we were ready to do so. People have asked why we went live halfway through the season, but it’s because it was the earliest stage we were ready, and we thought success was likely.
“We did a lot of trials and testing. Including youth tournaments, we covered a total of 135 games. We were consistent with the number of reviews before we went live with what happened when we went live, so we encountered a lot of what we expected.
“One of the biggest things about Video Review that is often overlooked is the confidence it gives officials – people always say about it undermining officials’ authority, but in reality, it does the opposite. Officials might make a tight call – for example, an assistant will keep their flag down because they know from experience that when it’s close they give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker, but maybe they’re not certain.
“A goal could be scored as a consequence of that approach, and that could play on that official’s mind for the rest of the game, sometimes with 70 or 80 minutes to go. Suddenly they get the words ‘check complete’ in their ear from the VAR, and they know they haven’t made an error. That must be a great feeling to be able to move on from that moment with confidence for the rest of the game.
“The biggest challenge, and what I go back to, is gaining consistency in relation to when VARs should intervene. Due to the subjectivity in the sport, and because every situation is slightly different, it’s not easy to categorize those situations.”