We have lost the plot’: Hackett criticises VAR and referees on handball decisions

Keith Hackett, the former head of referees in England, has said Premier League referees are not good enough, the VAR system is not fit for purpose and the domestic game has “lost the plot” over handball.

Hackett, who was a top-flight referee until 1994, said that while VAR needs to be examined, officials on the pitch need to look at themselves too. “The standard of refereeing has fallen,” said the former general manager of the Professional Game Match Officials Board (PGMOL).

“It is run like an old boys’ club now. There is no accountability. These guys are not amateurs, they are getting six-figure wages – you have to deliver. They are producing better referees in Europe. You get three or four key refereeing errors per weekend in the Premier League now. The standard is not good enough.

“When you start to penalise accidental handball, we have lost the plot. Handball should be deliberate to gain control, movement of hand to ball or to stop an attack. VAR is not at fault in this case, it is the laws.”

In additional to calling for a review of PGMOL’s operations, Hackett criticised the standard of VAR equipment and the way it has been used in the Premier League. “We got VAR wrong from the word go,” he said.

“With goal-line technology, cameras around each goal are operating at 500 frames per second. With VAR, the technology is operating at 50 frames per second. That is not enough. We should be talking to the manufacturers – the equipment has to be better.”

Recent decisions in top-flight games have fired further debate over handball and offside laws. Against Crystal Palace, Leeds’s Patrick Bamford was ruled offside after extending his arm to point to where he wanted the ball played. “With the Bamford scenario, you don’t want a law that acts as a defender, helping to rule out goals,” Hackett said.

“The law has to change on offside. Give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker and write the law to accommodate that. If that means daylight between last defender and attacker, then so be it. Do away with the [dotted] lines and leave it in the hands of a well-trained VAR. Why are we making it too complex?”

“We are sanitising a match into a technical game. It is not about entertainment, it is not about flair. Make it less complicated and make VARs specialists, not just referees doing that job. Then we might see a difference.”