The 2017-18 season has seen several top leagues try Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in a bid to refine the refereeing process and cut down on the controversy surrounding contentious, game-changing decisions that don't always go the right way. With a good portion of the season already passed, how is it faring? Has the technology been useful or unhelpful?
Number of key incidents reviewed by VAR this season: No data given
Number of incidents correctly overturned after review (up to Oct. 30): 18 key decisions were overturned in the 90 matches so far, either on the unsolicited advice of VAR or with the help of VAR, as requested by the referee. Of those 18, one decision was hugely contentious, and another was technically incorrect. In five further instances, the referees made decisions only after looking at video footage on the touchline.
In Germany, the introduction of VAR has been more complex than perhaps anticipated. There have been embarrassing technical glitches. There were a few significant delays interrupting the flow of the game, but communication lines between the referee in the ground and VAR HQ in Cologne failed altogether in a number of games. Worse yet, offside lines could not be superimposed on the pictures to help with narrow decisions.
In addition, much controversy abounds about the exact rules of engagement. VARs are supposed to contact the referees only in cases in which a "clear error" has been committed, but some have interpreted that more loosely than others. In a number of incidents, the referees themselves asked for assistance to get a second opinion.
Players and coaches have also been disappointed when VARs have not stepped in to "overrule" a decision -- technically, their interventions are not binding -- that they deemed to be wrong. Matters are not helped by a lack of transparency. Players, coaches and crowds in the stadiums are not privy to the discussions between the referee and the VAR and don't get to see replays.
In recent weeks, it has become more common to see the official look at a TV screen on the touchline to make sure he got the decision right. While the public find that more readily acceptable than intervention by VAR, it has a tendency for referees to second-guess themselves and move the goal posts.
Referees will be tempted to use video footage for any contentious issues to give themselves a better chance of getting it right, whereas VAR was originally supposed to work in a much more narrow sense: as a safety catch to preclude grave injustices on the pitch.
Unfortunately, the recent demotion of VAR's project manager due to claims over manipulation shows that while the technology is functioning, those presiding over it still need time to adjust. -- Raphael Honigstein
Number of key incidents reviewed by VAR this season (through Oct. 12): 309
Number of incidents correctly overturned after review (through Oct. 12): 288 decisions rubber-stamped (93 percent); 21 overturned
The biggest thing so far is that there's already a sense that VAR is making the game longer. We've seen the fourth official on a few occasions signal for seven or eight minutes of stoppage time. "It's turning into baseball," Max Allegri joked at one point. "You're at the stadium 10 hours. You eat a few nuts. You see some action every quarter of an hour."
It has also, on occasion, felt too intrusive, particularly on match days one and two, with even the slightest of infringements coming under the microscope when players and managers were under the impression that only big, glaringly obvious mistakes would fall under review. Gianluigi Buffon worried it was making the game inhuman, too robotic and harder to judge for referees.
But with the exception of a few high-profile incidents, the statistics tell a different story. Effective time is up on last season. Stoppage time is up but only by 19 seconds on average, while the time of review since match day one has come down from 1 minute, 22 seconds to just 40 seconds. As such, the use of VAR is improving.
Roberto Rosetti, the former referee heading the experiment in Serie A, says an average of three mistakes are being avoided every match day. Although there could be greater transparency, on the whole, it is changing things for the better. Players know they are being watched: The number of fouls is down from 260 to 203. Yellow and red cards have decreased and players have, for the most part, stopped protesting decisions because they know the tape never lies. -- James Horncastle
Major League Soccer
Number of key incidents reviewed by VAR this season (Aug. 5 to Oct. 22): 46
Number of incidents correctly overturned after review: 37 (33 of those led to correct outcomes)
VAR was implemented by Major League Soccer following the league's All-Star game on Aug. 2 and it has been accompanied by its share of controversy. Atlanta United manager Tata Martino said at one point that he wished the league would do away with it, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it's causing referees to avoid making calls.
Then there was the embarrassment that took place in late September. With the help of VAR, New England Revolution midfielder Xavier Kouassi was red-carded in the 11th minute of the Revs' 6-1 defeat to Orlando City on Sept. 27, a decision that was overturned by the league's Independent Panel three days later.
The Kouassi incident in particular highlights one undeniable fact: The technology is only as effective as the people using it. Before VAR, humans were making decisions about what is a red card or a penalty and what isn't. That has not changed, and mistakes will continue to happen.
But the fundamental hope is that the number of incorrect calls will be reduced, and that seems to be the case so far in MLS. All told, in 137 regular-season games, there were 1,372 checks, with VAR recommending 46 reviews. Of those 46, 37 were overturned, while the other nine were upheld. The Professional Referee Organization, which handles refereeing for MLS, as well as other leagues in North America, stated that only four of the 37 decisions were incorrect.
The league is also averaging one review for every three matches played, which means there has been minimal disruption to the flow of games. Although there have been and will continue to be mistakes, the league's implementation of VAR has proven to be largely positive. -- Jeff Carlisle
Number of key incidents reviewed by VAR this season: No official number given
Number of incidents correctly overturned after review: 14 (as of Oct. 1)
The overall feeling surrounding VAR use in Portugal is one of satisfaction so far. There have been few genuinely controversial uses, and indeed, the technology has come to some important decisions, such as the reversal of a late Portimonense equaliser at Benfica in September.
Benfica were on the receiving end of some controversy at the start of October, though, when their general director Tiago Pinto was suspended for 10 days after protesting the non-award of a penalty for his team at Maritimo. "What is the video referee doing?" was one of the politer parts of his rant, and the club complained on the website that the decision had not gone their way.
In fact, the video assistant referee had not been consulted, and that is a wider theme; on the whole, any issues have generally surrounded occasions when VAR was not called upon, suggesting that the biggest concern might be the consistency of its use rather than its methodology or outcomes.
Worries about the time it takes seem to be wide of the mark: Last month, the FPF were at pains to point out that VAR is taking only a minute, on average, out of games. There is cautious room for optimism, then, that VAR is proving successful in Portugal. -- Nick Ames
Stats not available
The A-League became the first top-flight competition in the world to introduce VAR, putting the system in place for the final two rounds and the finals series last season. Despite a few moments of controversy -- most notably two Sydney FC goals that were disallowed, then overturned by review in April's semifinal -- Football Federation Australia have persisted with VAR for the 2017-18 campaign.
Most of the kinks in the system have been ironed out, with only two decisions in round one of the season referred to VAR. (The league helpfully added clarification on its official website.) On both occasions, the assistant agreed with the on-field referee's decision and did not intervene, thus hardly affecting the flow of play at all.
Since then, though, some farcical situations -- the four-minute delay before awarding a penalty in Sydney FC's 2-0 win over Perth Glory on Oct. 28 and the wrong player being booked in Nov. 7's clash between Western Sydney and Melbourne Victory -- have heaped pressure on VAR and those in charge. -- Mike Wise