First of all, I’d like to wish a happy and progressive New Year to referees everywhere. May your whistles be heard at the right time and your cards all be shown when necessary!

The Carabao semi-finals are just around the corner, and with them the VAR system which, along with its use in this season’s FA Cup, signals an opportunity to boldly enter a new era where refs earn their presence at every top table when it comes to decisions affecting football’s future.

Now, whoever decides on the teams of three has to get it right. Please, let’s not go down the road of appointing the less competent end of our current crop or using the technology as a way of pensioning off those who may have outlived their usefulness on the pitch itself.

I want the top two referee teams to get the semis and the next best two to be in front of the screen if it’s to be alright on the night… the issue is simply too vital not to.

I agree with Keith Hackett about the likes of Webb and Clattenburg leaving our shores partly due to the lack of the biggest games coming their way with which to truly test themselves. Well, here’s a challenge to keep all our elite officials invested in the future, and could there ever have been a time when we needed our talent to rise to that challenge more than the present?

One major change I feel is overdue concerns the role of fourth official, which currently only adds to the flak taken and the lack of credibility suffered by our top officials. Give that job to ex-players or those in possession of all their coaching badges! Let’s see how those guys maintain the respect of all concerned when faced with the deplorable attempts to influence them that we see people who should know better getting away with at present.

Whatever it takes, I would also go forward without the current subservient relationship inflicted on the PGMO Ltd to the Premier League. Refs need to stand up for themselves in an age where their voices are in danger of being drowned out as much by ignorance among the power brokers as by their own reluctance to be heard.

One major downside to what’s coming with VAR is that for the first time the fans at the ground will be written out of the script by the very nature of the operation. That does not mean football has to cling any longer to its traditional lack of transparency, however. No, that’s why I would have the head of the VAR team of three each give a statement after each of the four semi-final legs, addressing what went wrong and what went right. We owe the fans that much.

Technology must be harnessed for the further improvement of our game, and it’s up to referees and assistants to recognise and embrace the fact. At the same time, we need to see their strength and integrity emerge as never before when there are glitches to overcome with the tools at their disposal.

I don’t care that it’s not the fashionable view in the corridors of power… we must give the game back to the lifeblood, by which I mean those who go to the actual games week in, week out.

As for the referees, whose performances are so entwined in the continued success of football at every level,  they need to be led by people who don’t play politics instead of demanding that place at every table where strategy is discussed.

Any organisation can only be effective if it’s as good as the sum of its parts, and if the leadership does not recognise how important it is that we have English representatives at the next World Cup, the biggest show-piece for our sport that there is, then that leadership should be shipped out for one that does.

Until next time, take care, Saggs.


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