Match Officials Mic’d Up: Webb analyses key incidents from Matchweeks 5-8

10 Oct 2023
Match Officials Mic'd Up MW5-8

PGMOL's Howard Webb explains decision-making process for incidents such as Luis Diaz's disallowed goal

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PGMOL and the Premier League are opening up discussions between the referee and the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for three key incidents so far this season in the second instalment of "Match Officials: Mic'd Up", led by Howard Webb, chief operating officer at PGMOL, the organisation that oversees the League’s match officials.

Webb and Michael Owen go through the conversation between the match officials to give fans greater knowledge of how decisions are made. The officials on the pitch do not hear all the conversations from the VAR hub in Stockley Park.

The incidents covered below are: Luis Diaz's disallowed goal v Tottenham Hotspur; Malo Gusto's red card v Aston Villa; Joao Gomes's handball v Luton Town; Mateo Kovacic's yellow card v Arsenal.

Luis Diaz's disallowed goal
TV Info

Incident: In the 35th minute and with the score goalless, Luis Diaz was sent clear and put the ball into the net, only to see the offside flag raised. The VAR, Darren England, did not overrule the decision.

What the match officials did: The VAR, Darren England, checked the offside and decided that Diaz was onside. But in a lapse of concentration, England failed to realise that the original decision was offside and said "Check complete", leading to play restarting with a Spurs free-kick.   

Webb: “We took the unusual step of releasing the audio from this situation not long after it happened. We wanted to show everybody what was very quickly apparent to us was a pretty significant human error - loss of concentration. And of course we're all disappointed that the VAR system didn't step in to rectify a clear error that we've seen on the field with the disallowing of the goal. And nobody's more disappointed than the officials themselves. They take pride in their work. They want to have a positive influence on the game.

See: PGMOL release VAR audio from Spurs v Liverpool

“One of the things that you know this has brought into sharp focus is the need to reiterate some of those communication protocols that are really valuable in VAR to prevent this type of thing happening. So we want the on-field referee to communicate to the VAR what the on-field decision is very clearly and then the VAR to go back to the referee and acknowledge that they've heard that properly.

“The VAR goes through the process then of checking the situation, giving clear direction to the replay operator to get the right angles, speaking to the assistant VAR as they're going through that as well so that the assistant VAR can be another check and balance if you like.

"And then before communicating to the field it's speaking to the AVAR to say what they're intended direction of travel is going to be. Then at that moment not just saying, 'Check complete. Check complete' because what are you 'check completing'? Say: 'Check complete. Goal confirmed.' Or in this case, 'Check complete. Offside confirmed.' ”

As to why the match officials felt unable to stop the match once it had restarted and make sure that the correct decision was made - a goal being awarded - Webb says: “I understand why people would ask that question and actually the VAR and the AVAR ask themselves that question too.

“When the penny dropped as to what had happened, I think 20 seconds had passed. And at that point they considered whether or not they could intervene to stop the game.

“They recognise that the Laws of the Game set by FIFA and the International FA Board don't allow that. There's a process in place that sits in the Laws of the Game about how we use VAR to make sure it's delivered consistently throughout every league in the world.

“It doesn't allow you to go back in those circumstances and as such they decided not to intervene. The International FA Board were in fact going to do a full review of the Laws of the Game relating to the use of VAR and … will look at whether or not there's a need to tweak some of it, and I'm sure that they'll be looking at this aspect of how VAR is used as well.”

Joao Gomes's handball
TV Info

Incident: With 10-man Wolves leading 1-0, Luton's Issa Kabore sent in a 65th-minute cross that bounced up off the leg of Joao Gomes and hit him on his hand inside the penalty area.

Joao Gomes Handball v Luton

What the match officials did: Referee Josh Smith awarded Luton a penalty, which Carlton Morris converted to earn a draw.

Webb: “It’s split opinion. Over the years the Laws of the Game have been simplified in terms of handball. Not that long ago, an arm above the shoulder would be deemed as automatically unnatural and therefore a handball will be given.

“But those words have been taken out and the only words that have replaced it really are around 'unnatural position', 'unjustifiable position', taking a risk by putting your arm in that position in the first place. Josh Smith, the referee here, felt that arm was so unnaturally positioned extremely above the head that it should be penalised.

“We always consult the stakeholders in the game. Within the Laws of the Game, maybe there's some way we can use some flexibility to say what we feel in the English game should or shouldn't be handball.

“But we can't really say that any deflection prevents a handball because then you get players standing in front of a shot, arms out wide and then a tiny, little deflection off a leg onto a full arm would prevent a penalty being given.

“Don't forget the on-field decision was a penalty and then the VAR checked to see whether that decision was clearly and obviously wrong, and clearly the VAR John Brooks deemed it wasn't because he saw the position of the arm above the head.” 

Malo Gusto's red card
TV Info

Incident: Chelsea full-back Gusto fouled Aston Villa's Lucas Digne near the touchline in the 56th minute.

What the match officials did: Referee Jarred Gillett awarded a free-kick and booked Gusto, but VAR intervened and ordered an on-field review. Upon further inspection at the Referee Review Area, Gillett upgraded Gusto’s yellow card to a red.

Webb: “It's a clear red card. The point of contact, the mode of contact, the full studs up with a turned foot above the ankle. That real significant buckle of the ankle suggests that the player’s safety has been endangered through an excessive-force challenge. So I expected that one to be intervened upon by the VAR and I think the red-card outcome is correct.”

Kovacic's tackles on Odegaard and Rice
TV Info

Incident: Mateo Kovacic caught Arsenal's Martin Odegaard on the lower leg on 29 minutes. 

Kovacic challenge on Odegaard

What the match officials did: Kovacic was shown a yellow card by referee Michael Oliver. The VAR looked at the incident and did not recommend overturning the decision to a red.

Webb: "Of course we want to be as consistent as we can be throughout every game among our group, dealing with the same situations in the same way each week.

“But, of course, all situations vary slightly. We accept and understand this, and this is clearly a poor tackle [on Odegaard] and I'm pretty confident had a red card been given by Michael Oliver on the day, it would have been a very straightforward ‘check complete.’

“There's a few differences here. The player, Kovacic, comes into the tackle with the right leg, though there's some weight on the left leg. As he kind of lunges in, the right heel hits the ground and then the contact is a little bit more to the side with an upright foot as opposed to a side-on foot, that we saw with Gusto.

“A few small differences that led the VAR to feel that the on-field decision here of yellow card wasn't clearly and obviously incorrect and therefore ‘check-completing’ it, feeling that, if they had intervened, it would have been a re-refereeing of that decision by the referee on the field."

Kovacic challenge on Rice

Incident: Six minutes after receiving a booking for the first incident, the Manchester City midfielder caught Declan Rice with a similar lunge.

What the match officials did: The second foul was not punished with a yellow card.

Webb: "I do [believe Kovacic was lucky not to be shown a second yellow]. Second yellows are something that the VAR is not able to get involved in. But he was an extremely fortunate player to stay on the field of play.

"Of course, the referee, Michael, will no doubt review that and he doesn't want to have a negative impact on the game by overreacting to something, and sometimes players will be on a yellow card and there will be pressure to show a second one. Pressure will come from the players on the field, but you know that's also true that if you under-react you have a negative impact on the game.

“So when he reflects on it, he'll realise that the second [foul] should have been a yellow card as well, which would have seen Kovacic sent off for two yellow cards.” 

Glossary of terms

VAR: Video Assistant Referee; REF: Referee; AR1/AR2: Assistant referees 1 & 2, AVAR: Assistant Video Assistant Referee; RO: Replay Operator; APP: attacking phase of play.

UK users can watch the whole "Match Officials Mic-ed Up" video on Sky Sports and TNT Sports, which includes Webb reviewing two further incidents this weekend: the Luton goal disallowed for a Tom Lockyer push v Spurs last weekend and the Anthony Martial goal disallowed for offside v Brentford. International users can access the full video with their local rights-holder.

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