My Take on Sky Sports’ Take on Mike Riley and VAR So Far

Image courtesy of Sky Sports

Look, I have nothing against Sky Sports, I swear. I don’t even live in the UK, so I don’t have access to their programming anyways. And I don’t really have anything against PGMOL referees’ chief Mike Riley either, mostly because he retired from refereeing before I starting following the Premier League.

Today, however, I read a Sky Sports article online discussing the storm of criticism Riley has come under and his subsequent “courageous admission” that VAR has made some mistakes so far this season (!) – and I had quite a strong reaction while going through it.

I would normally start out by giving my own explanation of what this article in question says, but instead, I’m just going to copy it down word-for-word and interject myself when I see fit. This is a little bit of Player23, unfiltered.

The original article, VAR: Premier League referee chief Mike Riley admits four mistakes this season (opens in a new tab), will be transposed in bold italics below, with my opinions in standard text.


VAR has made four mistakes so far during the Premier League season, referees’ chief Mike Riley has admitted.

What a revolutionary admissi- wait, what? Four? FOUR? That’s it?! What is Riley smoking? There’s no way that number is correct. I’d be doing cartwheels and jumping for joy right now if I were him if there were only four justifiable VAR mistakes by this point, not giving admissions of wrongdoing.

The examples, which include Fabian Schar’s equaliser for Newcastle against Watford and Leicester midfielder Youri Tielemans’ apparent stamp on Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, were discussed in Thursday’s meeting of Premier League shareholders.

The other two errors were the referee’s decision not to award Manchester City a penalty when Jefferson Lerma stood on David Silva’s foot in the Bournemouth box and a decision not to give West Ham a penalty when Sebastien Haller was brought down by Norwich’s Tom Trybull.

Let’s set the record straight. There have only been TWO wrong penalty area decisions so far this season? I need two hands to count the ones just off the top of my head! I think the only reasonable conclusion I can come to here is that Riley had a round of Russian Roulette before deciding which penalty non-calls were incorrect.

VAR in the Premier League

  • 227 – Incidents checked by VAR
  • 6 – On-field decisions changed
  • 10 – Decisions that should have been overturned

Hold on a minute, let me get my calculator out. 10, 6, okay, so this means four decisions that should have been overturned were not. Riley’s statement checks out. Now, four out of 227? That’s 1.8% if my math is good.

So, according to the PGMOL: in the situations in which VAR can legally intervene, it has made the correct decision 98.2% of the time so far this season.


Riley, the managing director of the elite refereeing body, PGMOL told Sky Sports News: “We are learning as we go along and we are constantly improving.

Well, it seems you’ve hit the ground running, Mikey! 98.2%! There’s almost nowhere to go but down from there, but you have to appreciate the humility he’s showing. Wait, why are we doing this big admission of mistakes when we have such a high success rate?

“Out of the four match rounds, there have been some really good examples where we have intervened. There have been six incidents where VAR has advised the referee and we have got a better decision as a result.

Talk about trying to save face. You know somebody has fucked up when they start their admission of error with a success story.

“There were four incidents where VAR didn’t intervene and had they done, we would have a better understanding of the role VAR plays in the game. [The mistakes] are all about the judgement of VAR and the process that we adopt.

“These are examples where VAR could have had a benefit and intervened to help the referee on the day.”

When pressed on why those mistakes were made, Riley added: “A combination of factors. That is the fascinating thing as this project evolves, we are constantly learning.

Jesus, I can’t even with these “answers.” A combination of which factors? Incompetency? Ineptness? Insufficient camera angles? Unwillingness to disrupt the speed of the game and risk losing out on some of that TV money?

“We are trying not to disrupt the flow of the game but on these occasions, the judgement should have been that it was a clear and obvious error.

Ha! There it is! It was only a matter of time before the Speed of the English Game™ was brought up as a stick with which to beat VAR.

“One of the really positive things about the first four match rounds has been the quality of on-field performances.

Look, if I’m being honest, the on-field refereeing hasn’t gotten any better since last season. If we’re using the words “really positive” and “quality performances” to describe what we’ve seen over the first month, then the PGMOL has exorbitantly low expectations of its officials, because there have been way too many negative talking points about them for me to be able to use those descriptors.

“All the referees have incorporated the things we need to do with VAR into their refereeing while still focusing on making real-time decisions.”

What exactly is so different about on-field refereeing when you have VAR? This is a serious question. For ARs, I can understand having to adjust when to keep flags down in case of a potential offside, but refereeing in the middle really shouldn’t change whether you have VAR or not – it’s there as a safety net, not a primary resource. Call the game as you see fit, and if you’re clearly and obviously wrong, the VAR will intervene.

Or maybe not. This is the Premier League, after all.

VAR ANALYSIS | By Bryan Swanson, chief reporter, Sky Sports News

This is a frank admission from the official in charge of Premier League referees. He sat in front of the most powerful figures in English football and admitted: “VAR got it wrong.” He left the hotel and highlighted his own referees’ errors on Sky Sports News. Many officials would have ducked interviews but Riley faced it head on.

A ‘frank admission?’ No PL executive needs Mike Riley to tell them that some wrong decisions have been made, the video evidence speaks for itself. You can’t defend the indefensible. Admirable I suppose to go ahead with the interview, but what would be even more admirable is if it sparked actual change on the field in the coming weeks.

Let’s not be too dramatic. There were four mistakes from nearly 230 checks, fewer than two percent. Riley admits his officials are “learning” and patience is the name of the game. On six occasions, VARs have overturned a decision. The general feeling is that VARs have helped referees, as they were intended to do.

Welp, there’s that 1.8% again. I accept that the referees are learning, but at the same time, I have a lot less patience for them when they are sat in front of a video monitor analyzing decisions. It’s a far different story to be running around on the pitch in front of 80,000 screaming fans, trying to manage 22 players and trying to get in the best position to make a call, than it is to be solely focused on watching a replay from every camera angle imaginable inside a quiet room at Stockley Park.

VARs never promised to be perfect but supporters have high expectations. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a poor decision. Some critics will continue to argue that if VARs don’t correct clear and obvious errors, and only makes matters worse, what is the point in having it?

High expectations? I mean, compared to the PGMOL’s floor-level standards I just talked about, sure, I guess you can say that. But is it really a tall ask for a national- or FIFA-level referee to look at a video screen and say that this (6:00 of video) is a penalty? If that’s a high expectation, it’s a worrying thought. And yes, the entire point of VAR is to correct clear and obvious errors. The Premier League isn’t using the technology correctly and it’s been a problem far more than it has been an positive step for referees in England. This season, with the High Bar for Intervention™ that the PL has introduced, there frankly hasn’t been much of a point in having VAR.

But, by admitting errors, Riley will hope to move on from them. He knows the pressure is on and VAR is in the spotlight for every game. He can’t change the past but his guidance can help shape future decisions. Let’s see how his referees react in this weekend’s games.

It would have been better had Riley actually been honest with the number of errors, rather than cap it at a nice round number (4) and attempt to put a positive spin on what has been a dire usage of the new system. But, tomorrow is a new day. Surely, at this point, the only direction things can go is up?

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