One of the biggest criticisms of the round-ball game in this country has long been that the players are soft, they fall over all the time and the referee always seems to buy it.
While this wasn’t always the case, in recent seasons some of this criticism has come to be justified with VAR at times hindering rather than helping.
For the last couple of seasons, the referring and accompanying VAR have really held the game back with constant free kicks for very minor contact and VAR taking an eternity to make any decision.
It has been frustrating for both the die-hard fans and even the casual observers.
Euro 2020, held in 2021 due to the pandemic, saw a noticeable difference in how VAR was used and how the games were refereed compared to previous years in the English Premier League.
It was refreshing for VAR only to be used when there was a clear and obvious error from the on-pitch referee. This was always meant to be the threshold for any decisions to be overturned, but it so often wasn’t applied that way in recent seasons.
The decisions also came quickly, so the game wasn’t held up for endless minutes while what seemed like a thousand replays were watched.
It was a huge relief to all fans and meant the football benefitted too. The games flowed. Goals could be celebrated.
EPL fans hoped that this would carry through to the new EPL season, but many doubted that it would.
But it has and what a difference it has made.
The referees chief Mike Riley, formerly a Premier League referee himself, spelled it out before the season.
“Fundamentally, we want the approach to be one that allows players to go out and express themselves and let the game flow,” he said.
He went on: “VAR teams will not intervene for trivial offences and the threshold for referee and VAR intervention will be slightly higher than it was last season”.
What a difference it has made.
Challenges that were previously pulled up as free kicks have been ignored. Play is being waved on while players roll around in mock pain on the ground. It is amazing how quickly they get up when they realise they didn’t get the decision!
The advantage rule has been applied much more, letting the game move on, and on a number of occasions leading to goals that previously wouldn’t have occurred.
VAR is only intervening when it should rather than for every brief touch.
Football is a contact sport and while nobody is advocating that we go back to the days of Norman Hunter or even Vinnie Jones, a good, hard, fair tackle has its place in football and it is good to see it back.
Not only that, but the new, and much improved, interpretations are a crowd pleaser with the only notable dissidents being Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Over time, even they must come to appreciate what an improvement it has made to the game.
The rhythms and speed of movement are what contribute to football being known as the beautiful game and by allowing these back into the game the referees have done themselves and all of us a great service.