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Questions have been raised within the game over whether the VAR team at fault for a major error in Tottenham’s win against Liverpool on Saturday night were fatigued.
It has emerged that VAR officials Darren England and Dan Cook had made a six-hour flight from the United Arab Emirates the day before, after taking charge of a league game between Al Ain and Sharjah in the UAE Pro League on Thursday night.
VAR England and assistant Cook made a “significant human error” when they failed to overturn Luis Diaz’s wrongly disallowed goal in the first half of Tottenham’s 2-1 win.
Both referees have since been stood down for Sunday afternoon’s match between Nottingham Forest and Brentford as well as Monday night’s game between Fulham and Chelsea.
The referees’ body the PGMOL have put the error for Diaz’s offside down to a “momentary lapse of concentration”, and questions have now been raised within the Premier League over whether workload fatigue played a part.
A flight between London and the UAE takes at least six hours, with the officiating team of Michael Oliver, England and Cook only arriving back on Friday.
A variety of sources have pointed to how teams in the Europa League don’t play until Sunday after a Thursday evening game. Officials who work in those same continental fixtures are usually fourth officials or VAR on Saturdays and on-field from Sunday, but that generally comes after much shorter travel than a trip to the Gulf.
The explanation so far put forth for the error is that the VAR for the Liverpool game thought they were checking whether Diaz’s goal should stand rather than whether it was offside, which is what on-field referee Simon Hooper had actually ruled. That created the farcical situation of a “check complete” communication leading to a fair strike being ruled out in completely preventable fashion.
What is not clear, however, is when the VAR officials realised that they had failed to intervene. Under the rules of the game, when Tottenham took the free kick to restart the match, the officials would have been unable to go back and award Diaz’s goal.
It has since been confirmed that Oliver, Cook and England were involved in officiating in the UAE in midweek. An approach had been made to the Football Association and was subsequently approved by PGMOL chief Howard Webb, with it not affecting their availability to be selected for Premier League fixtures.
Webb has since got in touch with Liverpool to apologise for the decision, as has become protocol.
Liverpool went on to finish the match with nine men and suffered stoppage-time heartbreak when Joel Matip deflected Pedro Porro’s cross into his own net in the sixth minute of stoppage time, but the post-match discussions focused on the crucial first-half error.
“Who does that help now? We had that situation in the Wolves-Man United game. Did Wolves get the points? No,” Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp reflected when informed of the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) statement.
“We will not get points for it so it doesn’t help. Nobody expects 100 per cent right decisions on [the] field but we all thought when VAR comes in that it might make things easier.
“I don’t know why the people… are they that much under pressure? Today the decision was made really quick, I would say, for that goal. It changed the momentum of the game, so that’s how it is.”
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher reacted to the decision on Twitter/X and said: “It’s an horrendous mistake no matter how they did it. But if they knew just after the Spurs free-kick was taken that they’d made a huge mistake, it’s nonsense they can’t bring it back just because a free-kick has been taken.”