LONDON — The head of English Premier League refereeing came clean when he faced club executives over the imperfections of using video assistant referees.
Far from new technology completely eradicating mistakes, Mike Riley told them four key decisions across four games were incorrectly overturned by the on-field referees relying on the judgment of VARs watching replays from afar.
"We’re far from perfect," Riley said a week on from the meeting of clubs. "We’ve got improve the way that we do things."
Teething problems were anticipated by Riley after conferring with Howard Webb, the former Premier League referee who helped to introduce VAR into Major League Soccer in the United States in 2017.
"He said the worst outcome is when the refereeing team on the field of play made the right decision, the VAR intervenes to make the wrong decisions," Riley said. "There will be times we don’t intervene when everyone thinks we should."
It is not helped by Premier League referees not using the pitch-side monitors through 12 rounds this season since VAR was implemented.
The four mistakes by VARs came across two matchdays in the last month when the league lowered the high bar previously applied for the referees’ decisions to be overturned:
— Daniel James earning a penalty for Manchester United after a collision with Ben Godfrey at Norwich;
— Everton defender Michael Keane accidentally catching Aaron Connolly, leading to a Brighton penalty;
— Chelsea midfielder Jorginho’s slight contact with Gerard Deulofeu getting Watford a penalty;
— Sokratis having a winner for Arsenal against Crystal Palace ruled out because teammate Calum Chambers was wrongly adjudged to have committed a foul in the buildup.
"There are significant things we can do to improve," Riley said at a briefing. "We can get better consistency of decision making as VARs.
"We can improve the timing so we have that minimum interference and if we achieve those, which we will over time, then what we will end up with is better quality decision making, better than 91% and actually in a way that minimizes disruption to the game."
But Riley was still able to assure the chairmen and chief executives of the 20 clubs that the number of correct game-changing decisions has risen from 82% last season to the 91% so far since VAR was introduced.
"Let’s not look back at what might have happened so far," Riley said. "Let’s take all those learnings and go, `How do we improve the system going forward?’ because we’ve all got a stake in making sure that happens."