Howard Webb has acknowledged “disappointment” from Professional Game Match Officials Ltd at the unprecedented errors that led to the video assistant referee (VAR) system denying Liverpool a legitimate goal against Tottenham 10 days ago.
The head of the refereeing body said the International Football Association Board (Ifab) should consider adapting the rules of the game to create a window of time for reversing similarly egregious mistakes.
Webb suggested Darren England, who was the VAR at Tottenham that day, had gone through his checking process too quickly before accidentally confirming an incorrect offside decision against Luis Díaz. England had also failed to implement communication protocols effectively when relaying his decision to colleagues. Webb said the referees’ body had since collectively addressed officials about the importance of following communication protocols and adding essential context when affirming or querying an on-field decision.
Speaking on the programme Match Officials Mic’d Up, which reviews Premier League refereeing decisions using audio discussions between on-field officials and VARs, Webb said of the Díaz incident: “Of course we are all disappointed that the VAR system didn’t step in to rectify a clear error. Nobody is more disappointed than the officials themselves, they take pride in their work they want to be a positive influence on the game and of course in this instance that wasn’t the case.”
Webb said that audio recordings showed clearly that England “is going through the process pretty quickly” and that when confirming via a still image that Díaz was onside “I think at that point Darren loses sight of what the on-field decision was”.
“Human error can happen in all walks of life and it happened here”, Webb said. “One of the things we have to do is put things in place that mean should we have a human error it doesn’t have the damaging impact we saw on this occasion. We’ve seen the need to reiterate the communication protocols that are really valuable in VAR. We’ve put quite a lot of steps in place to ensure the error we saw in that important game doesn’t happen again.”
Those alterations include affirming processes that mean the referee must clearly articulate their on-field decision to a VAR and the VAR must communicate it back to confirm. The VAR should also clearly discuss their processes and decisions with the assistant VAR and add context when relaying their final decision to a referee. In the Díaz incident, England simply used the phrase “check complete” when communicating with the referee, Simon Hooper.
“The VAR and AVAR asked themselves that question [about revising their decision],” Webb said. “After the penny had dropped 20 seconds had passed but they recognised that laws of game doesn’t allow that [change]. We have [that]system in place to make sure VAR used is consistently.
“I know that Ifab were going to do full review of all rules for VAR. Now we have lived experience that can feed into that and Ifab can look at whether it can be tweaked. I am sure they will look at this as well.”
Webb also criticised Michael Oliver for failing to send off Manchester City’s Mateo Kovacic after a challenge on Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard at their match at the Emirates on Sunday, for a challenge shortly after receiving a yellow card for another foul.
“I mean obviously the VAR can’t get involved, second yellows are something that the VAR is not able to get involved in, but I think he was an extremely fortunate player to stay on the field of play,” Webb said. “The referee – one of our best referees, one of the best referees in the world – Michael Oliver, will no doubt review that.”