Football Features

For or against? What every Premier League manager thinks about VAR

By Harry Edwards

Published: 7:30, 29 November 2023

Another week of Premier League football has passed and we’re still talking about VAR.

There have already been enough talking points to last lifetime this season, most notoriously the VAR mistake in Liverpool’s defeat to Tottenham in which Jurgen Klopp’s side were denied a legitimate goal due to poor communication between the VAR and referee.

There VAR mistake in Liverpool’s defeat to Tottenham represents the lowest point for the technology.

We all know the story. Liverpool were denied a legitimate goal due to poor communication between the VAR and referee.

It was all revealed on a show, which then meant most Premier League managers were asked for their opinions on VAR in October. But while that incident has brought some change in protocol and how checks are confirmed before completion, there are still mistakes and controversies.

So, who thinks what among the Premier League managers?

Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)

For

Mikel Arteta had reason to be annoyed with VAR last season, after seeing a goal for Brentford incorrectly given despite Ivan Toney being offside (the check was on the wrong player).

Speaking on that incident, Arteta said: “When I see the reaction, for example that Howard Webb had and the PGMOL and the Premier League had, and how genuine it was, that anger [shows] they want to do the best they can and they know the standards and everything that is at stake.

“I think, in the end, it will help.”

It’s a line Arteta had held since the early days of VAR and it hasn’t changed too much this season.

He said after the Liverpool incident: “When they explain all the processes of what they’re trying to do it sounds really logical. But in the heat of the moment […] it’s very, very different.

“It’s a shame that it’s happening but at the moment we haven’t got the right answers I think.”

Unai Emery (Aston Villa)

For

Unai Emery was still Arsenal manager as VAR was just being introduced and in favour of the technology. Now managing Aston Villa, he thinks it corrects more mistakes than it causes.

“Before when we didn’t have VAR, there were a lot of mistakes – more than now,” Emery told reporters recently.

“Now I can accept some mistakes in VAR. They are only a few small mistakes. Of course for Liverpool it was a big mistake in the last match against Tottenham but we have to accept because before, without VAR, there were more and more and more.”

Andoni Iraola (Bournemouth)

On the fence

Andoni Iraola hasn’t voiced a strong opinion VAR itself but noted some of the differences its use in the Premier League and La Liga, where he managed Rayo Vallecano.

He said: “In Spain, probably they call the referee, he goes and analyses the play and then he takes the decision. Here, even in quite clear situations, I will not talk about our games, but I remember the handball between Spurs and (Manchester) United, it was quite clear for me and they didn’t call him.

“So I feel like they call the referees less to go to the VAR than in Spain.”

Thomas Frank (Brentford)

Against

Thomas Frank and Brentford were on the positive side of a controversial call last season, but this season they have felt more aggrieved. In their 1-0 defeat to Newcastle, the Bees conceded a penalty for a foul by goalkeeper Mark Flekken, having seen a similar spot-kick for them not given a few games earlier.

Of that incident, Frank said: “I don’t think it’s a penalty.

“We got trolled in a similar situation some weeks ago against Tottenham when Kevin Schade was through. Clear contact with the ‘keeper took him out but apparently [the goalkeeper] pulled out before. And they also talked about a situation between Arsenal and Manchester City but that penalty was awarded.

“But going forward these should not be penalties […] If the assistant didn’t take the decision, it should 100% be humans making the decisions like that, then I’m convinced that VAR would not have overturned the decision, so I think that’s a problem.

“But because it’s not clear and obvious, it’s too tight. Now we will have a situation where Howard Webb will come out and apologise about the situation and say ‘we’re sorry’, I just think it’s too many times but it can happen.”

Roberto De Zerbi (Brighton)

For

Last season, Brighton were on the receiving end of a fair few contentious VAR decisions. However, Roberto De Zerbi’s still approves of how it’s used.

Brighton had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace after Pervis Estupinan saw a first-half goal incorrectly disallowed because the VAR drew the offside lines against the wrong player.

De Zerbi said: “It should be better. The technology can and has to help the referee but in Palace it was like this and we can’t change the result.

“I can tell you [Howard Webb] is a good guy, an honest person and I appreciate a lot he showed his face because when there is a mistake it’s not easy to put your face in this situation.

“But I told him there isn’t a problem for me, for my players, for my club. We don’t want to put any pressure on the referee of tomorrow. They are human like the other people and they can make mistakes. I don’t like if I have to criticise them because it’s not my job. I’m sorry for the mistakes for sure.”

De Zerbi did back Jurgen Klopp after his recent frustrations, given Brighton’s VAR experiences, but also gave a reserved: “This is the way.”


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Vincent Kompany (Burnley)

For

Vincent Kompany started his managerial career in the Championship without VAR, having also left the Premier League as a player before it was brought in. The Belgian has admitted that he needs to get used to the technology, sometimes turning his brain off when it comes to talk of the rules.

“I have a decent business and coaching brain, but when it comes to laws and legality I switch off,” he said.

“Handball this way or that, they come and explain it to us but I have made a decision to trust what they are doing and have the right intentions.

“It is not something I want to discuss too much, I cannot change it now.”

However, things did change slightly when Kompany’s Burnley had a late equaliser disallowed for offside following a long VAR check.

“It’s sometimes like going to the casino and putting all your chips on black or red,” Kompany said.

“I could see them changing angles, drawing different lines. Sometimes the line turned up green, which means it’s onside, and sometimes it turned out red, which means it’s offside.

“I completely understand that [the officials on the pitch] can make a mistake. It’s the process that worries me.”

Mauricio Pochettino (Chelsea)

For

Chelsea fans have been unhappy with a few VAR calls this season, including Malo Gusto’s red card against Aston Villa. Similar to the one given to Curtis Jones against Tottenham, some felt the decision was overly influenced by the referee seeing a freeze frame of the contact rather than the full tackle, removing context such as a foot slipping over the ball.

This has led some to question VAR itself, but Mauricio Pochettino believes in technology as a whole – his main problem is those in charge of it.

“I trust in VAR. I trust in the car – but not the driver. That is the problem,” he said recently.

‘I was very critical from the beginning, many years ago. I think it’s a good decision to use the technology of whether (the ball) is across the line and if it is offside, to take time is important.

“Then we can discuss and argue about whether the referee needs to be more involved, to have the last say. For me, it is about simplifying the situation. The most important is to return to giving (more) power to the referee. I think one step back may make things easier and more clear.”

Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)

Against

Roy Hodgson has always been against VAR and its focus on the minutest of details. In 2020 he lamented decisions being made by referees not even at the stadium, saying after one game: “The referees these days, you never see them because they are miles away, aren’t they?

“I thought the referee on the field could easily have given the penalty. The people in the office decided against that as well.”

There was another disagreement in 2022, when Hodgson was unhappy with Liverpool being awarded a penalty when he was managing at Watford.

He said: “I’m still annoyed about that penalty really because it’s a penalty where there’s no appeal from the Liverpool player, neither Jurgen or I see anything untoward that’s gone on in the situation.

“All of a sudden, the game’s stopped and we hear there’s a VAR check and we’re all looking at each other saying ‘What do you mean there’s a VAR check? What are they checking?’.

“Surely that’s not what VAR is meant to do is it?”

Sean Dyche (Everton)

For

Sean Dyche is often seen as a no-nonsense football manager when it comes to certain topics, whether he feels that way or not. Gloves and short sleeves? Sean Dyche would hate that. Snoods? Definite no-no for Dyche. Technology? Well, actually, Dyche has a level-headed argument, trying to see it from both sides of the coin as a manager and as a football fan.

“I’m a fan of it in the decision-making side of things because I think it’s important in terms of where the game is at now in terms of the business side of the spectacle,” he said recently.

“It would be unfair for some decisions to go against teams if it cost them the ultimate price of possibly getting relegated or whatever that may be.

“The other side of me, as a fan, just a football fan, obviously I’m aware it slows the game down, it makes it feel different. I think it’s a fine line to get it right at the minute, I know there’s a lot of noise about the obvious decision going wrong, how they can streamline it, hopefully improve it.

“The senses of sitting in a room, it’s different than to referee naturally. I can only imagine, having not done it. Sitting there in front of a screen gives you a different view and maybe they almost get too analytical about it, rather than going somewhat with an instinct over what they would normally on the grass without VAR.

“We’ve seen that ourselves. A kind of nothing incident on a ‘keeper led to a goal of ours being disallowed. Yet I was down at Forest watching them play Brentford, a player stays on his feet, tries to score a goal and gets nothing although it’s clearly a penalty and possibly a sending-off in that moment.

“They’re the things in which I think we’re all a bit lost in it but overall I still think I’m a fan of it from the business point of view and I must make that clear. From the fan point of view, it just loses that fluidity with the fan feel of what it is.”

Marco Silva (Fulham)

For

Fulham are another team to have been on the wrong end of a controversial VAR call recently, seeing one of Manchester City’s goals in their 5-1 defeat awarded despite calls of Manuel Akanji influencing play from an offside position.

And while Marco Silva accepted that a mistake could have been made by the assistant referee, he was not happy with VAR’s role in allowing the goal.

“Everyone that has played football, who has some knowledge of football, knows 100% sure to disallow that goal,” he said.

“For the [assistant referee] it can be difficult to see an offside position, but for VAR it is impossible not to disallow that goal. That moment had a huge impact on the game.”

When Silva first voiced his opinion on VAR, however, he said it would be “a very good support to the referees as well” during its first season in the Premier League.

Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)

On the fence

We all know Jurgen Klopp’s opinion on Luis Diaz’s disallowed goal, but one that has gone slightly under the radar is Jones’ red card. Klopp was particularly unhappy with the use of freeze-framing.

“The referee got called to the screen and saw for the first three seconds a frozen picture,” he said. “I would have given immediately a red card for that picture. Then he sees the replay in slow motion and I’d have given a red card for the slow motion. But it’s not a red card.

“The FA panel say it’s not a clear and obvious mistake, but I think it is. The ref’s first decision is yellow. Then the clear and obvious mistake is showing a frozen picture and in slow motion.”

In 2019 after a draw with Manchester United, Klopp said: “I used to be one of the people who said, ‘yes, VAR is a good idea’ but I’m really not sure if I would say that again, to be honest. Now we have it, and now we have to deal with it.”

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Rob Edwards

For

Rob Edwards is another manager experiencing weekly VAR for the first time this season as Luton undergo their debut Premier League campaign and return to the top flight after over 30 years. The Luton boss has more reason than some to be aggrieved by technology, as his side were denied a penalty against West Ham earlier this season after a James Ward-Prowse hand-ball. The spot-kick would have given them the opportunity to earn their first point.

“I am for VAR as long as we get the right decision. I think with things like, we’ve seen certain things, offsides, they’re factual decisions,” he told reporters recently.

“But the difficulty we have, it’s still someone else’s opinion with a handball for instance. We’ve had probably some [against Brighton and Wolves] where they’re questionable, and then maybe another one against West Ham that in my opinion was a bit more of a handball, doesn’t get given. That’s when it’s still just someone’s opinion.

“For the factual stuff, yeah we need it. Goal line technology, offsides.”

Pep Guardiola (Man City)

On the fence

In true Pep Guardiola fashion, the Manchester City manager recently gave an opinion on VAR without actually giving an opinion. Just like pretty much everyone else, Guardiola was asked about VAR following the Tottenham-Liverpool controversy. While he seemed critical of referees, he didn’t say too much of the technology itself.

He said: “It changed the job of the referees because now they don’t make the decisions. It goes to the VAR. I understand the feeling of Liverpool but the bosses of the referees will decide.

“No [I don’t have any ideas how to improve it]. I’m not a professional in that to apply it as best as possible. I’m not involved in that and I don’t care. We have to rely on the people there. Everyone knows they did a mistake and Liverpool suffered a big consequence of that cause in these games is super important.

“They will have to find a system where the main roles are the players and the game itself. In all the countries, not just here. The referees and the VARs are the leading roles. And the Oscar goes to… they have to make a step back. It’s the players.

“Some games, be more humble and leave the players to do what they have to do, and they will be better. They will be better.”

In its early days, Guardiola publicly stated his support for VAR on multiple occasions. These days, his stance is less clear.

Erik ten Hag (Manchester United)

For

Erik ten Hag was another who gave very little when asked about VAR, but his opinions were favourable of the referees and technology, opting to trust the officials.

“I don’t give comments often on refereeing because they do what they need to do. The standards need to be high,” he said.

“You can expect, the fans can, a high standard, so it should be because it’s the Premier League. I’m sure they do what they can. I trust them.”

Eddie Howe

On the fence

Eddie Howe seems to have avoided VAR talk lately but is among the easiest to categorise here, as he conveniently told reporters while managing Bournemouth: “I’m still on the fence. It needs to prove itself to me that it’s good for the game.”

By December 2021, after feeling his side were denied penalties in a defeat to Liverpool, Howe’s stance on the technology had grown frostier: “I’m just slightly confused about the use of VAR. Initially when VAR was introduced, it was used regularly to try to get the right decision because ultimately that’s what we’re all after, we’re all after the right decision at that moment.

“But for some reason, I think the use has been diluted. I don’t see it effectively intervening as much as it did in the early stages in a positive way.”


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Steve Cooper (Nottingham Forest)

For

Steve Cooper perhaps has the biggest reason to be sympathetic towards referees, as the son of former EFL and Premier League official Keith Cooper.

It appears this has helped form his opinion, focusing on trying to make the refereeing level better rather than criticising the officials themselves.

He said recently: “We all want refereeing to be at the right level and we all want to help them and they have to help themselves. They’re going through a difficult spell and I think we need to help them. This is the one Premier League game of the day – it needed to be a real clear and concise performance, but they have just raised more questions than answers.

“This league is amazing and every part of it needs to be at that level. My dad was a referee, so I do get it. Some [decisions] have gone for us, so I am not sitting here saying we’re hard done by. The last thing [the PGMOL] needed today was talking points about decision making.”

Paul Heckingbottom (Sheffield United)

For

Paul Heckingbottom falls into the camp of being pro-VAR in theory, if not in how it’s currently being used.

It’s worth remembering that Sheffield United were on the wrong end of a terrible technological mishap in 2019/20 as they had a goal not given against Aston Villa as the Hawk-Eye goalline technology was not working at the start of the second half.

“In this instance, and the Sheffield United one at Villa, those black-and-white moments are more of an operational thing,” he said.

“From our point of view we want consistency and VAR has a part to play in that. It’s how it’s implemented. The instance with Liverpool, it was a goal and the powers that be realised it was a goal after so long. Could something be implemented where there’s an intervention in there to put it right?”

Ange Postecoglou (Tottenham)

Against

Ange Postecoglou has won the hearts of a lot of fans with his interviews this season across various platforms, and he may have won a few more among those who are anti-technology.

Postecoglou didn’t beat around the bush either, saying: “I just don’t think that technology is ready for our game. I’ve got zero against goal-line technology. It’s a no-brainer and it works for our game. Our game is unique. People say, ‘Let’s get referees explaining their decisions’. Oh my God – seriously? Could you imagine sitting there listening to a referee explaining every decision in the game?

“I’m going to the gridiron on Sunday, I love American football. But it’s three and a half hours. The measure of who was a good referee was the ones you never noticed and now we’re trying to make them the stars of the show.

“We’re analysing, in slow motion, yellow cards. We, as managers and players, are the worst for it because we talk about integrity but I bet if you watch a game tonight, the first throw-in, both teams will appeal for it. We’re trying to take advantage and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“With VAR, the more we use it the worse it’s going to get. Clear and obvious error? It seems like everything is getting scrutinised. It’s not our game. We’re not rugby, we don’t have those stoppages.

“What I always loved about our game – especially in England – was the frenetic pace. Why are we trying to take that out? None of us liked it when they were taking too long over a decision and last week it sounded like they were rushing it. Maybe that’s a consequence.

“That suggests to me the technology in its current form is not suitable to our game but I know I’ll be in the minority with that. I don’t know what the game’s going to look like in 20 years and I’m not sure I’m going to like it.”

David Moyes (West Ham)

On the fence

David Moyes is another who appears to be against the people using the technology rather than the techonology itself. However, he was particularly scathing of all parties after a decision went against West Ham last season.

In West Ham’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at the London Stadium, the Hammers gave up a 1-0 lead. When trailling, they appealed for a penalty after the ball hit Thiago’s box late on. The decision went against West Ham, with the officials deciding that Thiago had been using his arm to break his fall in a sliding block. Moyes did not agree.

“I think it’s a penalty kick,” he told post-match reporters. “I think the hardest thing to take is the disrespect from VAR, that VAR wouldn’t have at least said to the referee that this might be worth having a look. That tells me they don’t see that as even close to a decision. I’m surprised.

“Somebody in VAR didn’t have enough football knowledge to understand that this could be close.”

It echoed another occasion where, following a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea where West Ham saw a late equaliser disallowed by VAR, Moyes said, “I support a lot of the VAR stuff,” before finishing his answer with, “I’m actually more embarrassed for the guy on VAR than for the referee. That’s someone who doesn’t understand football and probably shouldn’t be anywhere near it if that’s enough to send the referee to the screen.”

Gary O’Neil (Wolves)

Against

At the time of the Liverpool incident, Wolves boss Gary O’Neil perhaps gave the clearest answer on VAR, partly because he was asked point-blank whether he was for or against the technology.

“I’ve always been strongly for it because I think it makes complete sense,” he told TalkSport. “I just think it needs improving.

“At this moment though I think it’s probably in the worst place it’s been in, so probably the closest to being against it that I’ve ever been. But I do still believe it just needs improving. I think, slowing everything down, being able to see it again, having a fresh pair of eyes on it I think it should all make it easier. I still don’t think we’re coming to the right conclusion often enough.”

However, it appears his feelings have changed after Wolves’ controversial 3-2 defeat to Fulham recently. After the game, O’Neil revealed that the referee on the night had admitted to making three errors in the defeat, failing to overturn Fulham’s first penalty, failing to award a second yellow card to Tim Ream and a straight red to Carlos Vinicius for a headbutt.

“I’ve always been for VAR but I think it’s causing a big problem at the moment,” he told Sky Sports.

“Maybe tonight [Monday] has finally turned me against VAR. I thought it would probably help but it doesn’t seem to be.

“I’m managing a big football club here – the difference you’re making to my reputation, the club’s progression up the league, people’s livelihoods is huge.

“It can’t be with all the technology, in the best league in the world, it can’t be OK. We should discuss the game really but unfortunately we have to discuss this.”

O’Neil later added: “I don’t think VAR helped him but in fact it hindered him [the referee].

“Sending him to the screen for one and not to the other, not advising him there is a headbutt or that Tim Ream should receive a red card. What is the point in VAR?

“They said they got the Harry Wilson one right [final penalty]. There’s minimal contact and I don’t think there’s enough.”

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