Hibs boss outlines radical VAR change needed to improve game

Penalty? It should have been, according to review of VAR foul-ups.Penalty? It should have been, according to review of VAR foul-ups.
Penalty? It should have been, according to review of VAR foul-ups. | SNS Group
Monty would hand even MORE power to video refs

It’s a complicated issue, deserving of a nuanced response from those most affected. If that’s not really how we do things in Scottish football, well, maybe we should make an exception.

While Nick Montgomery understands that his ideas for improving VAR – referees being over-ruled and possibly even “punished” for getting obvious calls wrong – will create a stir, the Hibs boss certainly doesn’t see the wider picture in ultra-high contrast black and white. As a coach who actually uses drone video replays to shut up mouthy players moaning about offside calls in training games out at East Mains, he’s no Luddite when it comes to technology.

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Like any football manager, though, he sees things through the prism of his own team colours. And his focus has definitely been narrowed by the latest SFA admissions of error in a Video Assistant Referee system under fire from all sides. He is, of course, especially concerned with the acknowledgement that Hibs were wronged in not one but TWO major penalty decisions as they slipped and stumbled into the Scottish Premiership bottom six by the narrowest of margins.

“It’s not easy being a referee and that’s why they’ve got the VAR to help,” said Montgomery, the typically blunt Yorkshireman adding: “Maybe it’s more about educating the VAR operators and giving them more say to overrule the on-field referee and tell them: ‘You’ve got that wrong.’ Because ultimately, the referee will go on and make that decision and some of the calls have been baffling - and a lot of them seemed to be against Hibs, which is frustrating for me and the players.”

Allowing officials sitting at VAR HQ to over-rule their on-field colleagues would require a change not just to Scottish practices, but IFAB protocols governing the global game, which clearly state: “The final decision is always taken by the referee, either based on information from the VAR or after the referee has undertaken an ‘on-field review’ (OFR)”

Yet Monty, asked if he could make a case for Video Assistant Referees having the final say, argued: “I think so, because they’re the ones who have watched it back five times before the referee comes over and in the pressure of the moment, with the home fans screaming at him - like happened in the derby. I think you have to take that away from them.

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“The VAR is there to support the referee and make sure he gets the decision right so if the on-field referee blatantly goes against the VAR’s decision, I think there should be some accountability for the referee - if they’ve got a decision wrong and haven’t listened to the VAR.

“I think there should be some sort of punishment; whether that’s missing the next game or whatever that may be, which happens in other leagues. Just to brush it under the carpet and move on is frustrating.

“You can’t change it now, they’re not going to give the points back, but everybody wants the game to be officiated fairly and properly. And I think we’re in an age now with technology that should mean we’re limiting the ones that are totally wrong.”

Montgomery said he at least appreciated the authorities owning up to human error in the report issued this week, admitting: “It was nice to get the apology and the admittance that they were wrong decisions because I think everyone could see they were the wrong decisions on the day. It did feel like another punch in the face because you know those decisions have impacted your standing in the league. But that’s not the only reason.

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“You do look over the season and you run back in your head what happened on those occasions, and it’s amazing how they got them so wrong. But it’s big of the SFA to come out and publish that report because it confirms that wrong decisions were made.

“It’s hard - a lot of the VAR decisions have been right; the tight offsides, and decisions like that which obviously impact games. But people have looked at me this season and said: ‘Oh, he’s whinging about VAR again.’ But I haven’t been whinging! I’m asked about it by the media and give an honest answer and then the next day it’s: ‘Montgomery smashes VAR!’ Which is not the case.

“Everybody wants to improve every aspect of the game. It’s the best game in the world and the Scottish league has too much negativity around it, and this just adds negativity which you don’t need.

“The whole point of the clubs investing in VAR was to limit the number of mistakes and wrong decisions and I think the ones where it was very clearly wrong, you have to question how they got it wrong. The Hearts penalty (in February’s 1-1 draw at Tynecastle), everyone in the stadium can see it’s not a penalty. The Hearts bench can see it’s not a penalty. The fans can see it’s not a penalty, yet it’s still given as a penalty - and then months later they come out and say: ‘It wasn’t a penalty.’ 

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“You can’t not feel frustrated about that. I think it’s just about consistency and balance.”

Montgomery – who reiterated his backing for full-time referees - revealed that VAR had positively affected how Hibs train, explaining: “We tell the players not to whinge or complain - if you think it’s offside, we’ll check after on the drone footage. What you can’t do is expect the decision to be right. With offside decisions in games, the players can’t stop, they have to finish the action. And we tell them to that in training as well, and I think that’s a good thing.

“With the speed of the game nowadays, some of the offsides are really tight and you can only see them when you slow the video down and really see whether it’s offside or not, so I think for that reason, it actually helps. We review the training footage afterwards - we don’t have facilities to review it on the spot! But we always review it afterwards and some of the boys who thought it was a wrong decision can see what actually happened - and then they go a bit quiet!”