Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson believes that ex-footballers should assist officials on VAR as they would offer a different perspective on the current flawed format. Merson wrote in his final Daily Star column that VAR will improve if it utilises the knowledge of ex-professionals. There have been some very controversial VAR decisions and mistakes this season, with some leading to referees losing their jobs. Some fans and pundits have called for former footballers to be involved in the VAR decision-making process as they know what it is like to play the game. However, it doesn’t make much sense for Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) to employ people who don’t have the correct officiating qualifications. Simply put: it’s never going to happen.
Merson’s views are not unfounded, as former players like Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher have often criticised the use of VAR, arguing that it has made the game more robotic and less enjoyable to watch. They have called for changes in the technology or its application to ensure that it does not take away the thrill of the game. Ex-players might have an understanding of how it feels to be on the field and might give different feedback on decisions made by VAR than current officials. The idea of ex-players being involved in the decision-making process will not only provide a different perspective but also restore faith in the system and the game.
However, despite the benefits of having ex-players in the VAR van, it is challenging to expect PGMOL to employ those without the correct qualifications. The process of becoming an official is rigorous and requires an understanding of the game’s rules, procedures and regulations, and it is unlikely that former players would come with that level of expertise. Nevertheless, there could be some sort of collaboration between officials and ex-players to iron out decisions made by VAR.
Overall, VAR has had a mixed reception since its introduction to the Premier League. While the technology is here to stay, it is essential to make changes to ensure it does not take away the thrill of the game. Proper training of officials and implementing new technologies like automated offside decisions could help improve the system. Additionally, collaborations between officials and ex-players could improve the VAR processes and help in restoring faith in the game.