the arbiters

The impossible job: inside the world of Premier League referees: An excellent in-depth study. None of the problems identified here are easily addressed, but I think the first steps should be: 

First: retrospective punishment for players who (a) surround the ref to intimidate him and (b) simulate being fouled. And not fines — the players are too rich to care about fines. I think the best option would be for players found guilty in these matters to begin their next match with a yellow card. That may seem strong, but there is a deeply-ingrained culture of bullying and deceiving that needs to be addressed. 

Second: eliminate VAR. Just get rid of it. Many years ago my persistent back pain led me to consult a surgeon, who told me that one-third of the people who had the operation I needed got relief from their pain, one-third were left unchanged, and one-third experienced increased pain. VAR is like that; and even when its decisions are correct it makes every single match in which it’s used worse, because fans don’t have any idea whether to celebrate a goal or not — it might be overturned. Almost any idea — including adding a second referee — would be preferable to VAR. 

One more thing about VAR: it’s even less reliable than people think, because one of its weaknesses is almost never noted. When VAR is looking at a potential offside, we’re always shown the players at the offside point and the line that indicates whether the attacking player is ahead of the defender or even with him. What no one looks at is the ball: Has VAR captured the precise moment at which the ball is struck? Typically you can’t tell, because the ball itself obscures the player’s foot. (Here’s an example, from the Premier League website.) VAR might have frozen the video at the precise instant that the player’s foot strikes the ball, but that’s highly unlikely. It’s much more likely that the video is stopped a fraction of a second early or a fraction of a second late; and that might make the difference between whether a player is offside or not. VAR is thus tasked with making decisions that it simply cannot make. Be done with it, I say!