Referees to use VAR monitors at last but armpits can still be offside

VAR the joy killer: Referees to use monitors at last but armpits can still be offside as Premier League prepares for new season with minor adjustments

  • Premier League’s first season using VAR was one full of controversy and debate 
  • When the new league season rolls around, it will all look slightly different
  • ‘Armpit offsides’ caused much fury last season but they will not be removed 

For some, the best change that could happen to VAR is for the whole thing to be strapped to a raft, set on fire and pushed out to sea.

The Premier League’s first season using video assistant referees (VAR) was one packed with delays, complaints, confusion and controversy over armpits and toenails.

Unfortunately for those who felt the joy of the beautiful game had been eroded by lines drawn on a computer screen, VAR is here to stay. Yet, when the new Premier League season rolls around, it will all look slightly different.

The Premier League’s first season using VAR was one full of controversy and debate

Premier League referees’ chief Mike Riley had interpreted the VAR protocol to match his own vision. However, Fifa took control of VAR from the International FA Board (IFAB) last month and, with former referee Pierluigi Collina and former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger at the heart of it, want to see every competition apply it in the same way.

Now that the Premier League have agreed — though they had little choice — to adopt Fifa’s protocol, certain things are about to change…


Ah, the monitors. Those little black boxes, sad and lonely on the touchline. Well, dust them down and fire them up. They are back in the game.

Now that Fifa are in charge of VAR, the Premier League must now fall into line.

Last season, Riley instructed his referees to use the monitors as ‘sparingly as possible’. That seemed to be code for ‘not at all’. It would be too slow and boring to watch Mike Dean trudge over to the side of the pitch, watch the incident and come to his own decision.

Referees will consult the on-pitch monitors much more during the coming campaign 

Much better for him to stand with his finger to his ear for two minutes while players wander around whistling and supporters in the stadium (remember that) wait for a man up to 300 miles away in a dark room near Heathrow Airport to tell them what is going on.

Even when the monitors came slightly back into fashion towards the end of the campaign, this was more of a confirmatory window dressing: if the VAR thought a red card should be awarded, only then would the referee go over and nod his head.

Now, Fifa will demand referees use the monitors for subjective decisions such as red cards and penalties. Who better to make an informed judgment on an incident than the official who saw it in up close and in real time. It will also mean junior VARs will not have to overrule their senior colleagues. They can just tell them to have another look themselves.


It took just 76 minutes of the season for the first case of the dreaded ‘armpit offside’ when Raheem Sterling was adjudged to be 2cm beyond the last defender to chalk off Gabriel Jesus’ goal. After that, we had strikes ruled out because of knees and toenails.

All this despite The Mail on Sunday’s revelations that frame-rates of the broadcast cameras used by VAR were not good enough, at 50 frames per second, to be able to know for certain whether a player was marginally offside. A player could move up to 20cm in between frames.

Premier League are considering removing the drawn lines when using VAR for offside calls

That’s not going to change next season either. The Premier League had plans to introduce thicker offside lines to help factor in a margin of error but Collina is having none of it. 

‘The protocol does not allow for tolerance levels,’ read the Premier League statement through gritted teeth. What will be different this season is that broadcasters won’t show the process of VAR tinkering about with drawing the lines and moving them around. All that will be shown is the final frame with lines in their ultimate position.

Eventually, Fifa plan to make offsides automatic, tracked by GPS technology. Wenger’s desire to trial a new ‘daylight’ offside law that means a player is onside as long as any part of his body is level with the defender is still lingering around in the background. Even if this would give far too great an advantage to the attacker and mean defences camp deep inside their six-yard box at every free-kick.

For now, then, armpits will still make all the difference.


Another aspect of VAR in which the Premier League thought they knew best. 

Instead of instructing linesmen and women to keep their flags down on marginal offsides, as in the Champions League, they told them to raise them but for the referee to keep off blowing his whistle until the attack had played out.

Officials running the line will be told to keep their flags down and only raise after play ends

Defenders had to learn to play on, even when they saw the flag fly into the air, which caused a bit of confusion. Now, they must keep their flag down on tight calls which look likely to lead to a goalscoring opportunity. 

Once it’s been scored (or missed) they will raise their flag and VAR will do the rest.


Get ready for a lot of re-taken penalties. Previously, the League had ignored the advice that VAR should rule on goalkeepers straying off their line, or of players running into the box too soon. They left it to the on-field officials who, largely, used their common sense.

Now, there is no choice. If a goalkeeper saves a penalty but his foot is a toenail over the line, it will be re-taken. If it’s saved and a defender races in to clear it but had a piece of his body grounded on the line of the penalty area, it will be re-taken.

Lots of re-taken penalties are expected as rules are re-shaken when it comes to encroaching

If it hits the post or goes over it will not be re-taken unless the goalkeeper had a ‘material impact’ in the kick being missed.

Players can now lean into the box as much as they want, it’s only what is grounded on the floor that needs to stay outside the box. Players who do encroach will only be penalised if they clear the ball — if it’s saved — or score the rebound.


What is still to be determined is how strict Fifa will be in enforcing their view on penalties awarded for handball.

The Premier League were more lenient than every other major league and competition in penalising accidental handballs in the box.

Rules are set to become much more strict regarding handballs inside the penalty area

In Europe, as the penalty given against Moussa Sissoko against Liverpool in the 2019 Champions League final showed, they were much more militant.

If Fifa are as forceful with this as their other laws, the Premier League may have to follow. If so, prepare for more penalties.

What will be different is what part of the body is now classed as the arm. Previously, it was anything from the top of the shoulder. Now, the arm is anything below where a t-shirt sleeve would end.

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