Neil Humphreys: Kill VAR or kill the game
Infuriating technology can't continue in its current form
Even the patron saint of patience has caved. Gary Lineker now recognises that VAR is killing English football.
He was a staunch remainer. Now he's a leaver. And he's right.
Either kill VAR, in its current guise, or slowly kill the game itself, match by match, delay by delay, decision by decision. It's going to be death by a thousand paper shufflers in a distant room, staring at TV monitors.
Indeed, to really stretch the Brexit analogy, the English Premier League must be ready to break away from the collective thinking across Europe and free itself from distant, bureaucratic interference.
VAR-exit means VAR-exit. Hold a referendum on the subject today and a second vote would not be required. A comfortable majority backs leaving VAR behind.
Lineker has switched sides. So has Jamie Carragher. And Chris Kamara has even hinted at corruption.
The pundit claimed that VAR deliberately opted for the wrong decision to rule out Roberto Firmino's "goal" against Aston Villa and vindicate the referee, underlining the debate's absurdity right now.
VAR remainers are now leavers and English football is stumbling towards high farce. More importantly, it's no longer much fun.
VAR was already diluting the stadium atmosphere and forcing paid punters to put emotions on hold as goals were checked elsewhere, creating a temporary, artificial reality at football grounds. But VAR's ponderous execution is also inadvertently undermining the EPL's greatest asset. Speed.
The EPL doesn't always attract the greatest players - given a choice, they still prefer to reign in Spain - but it remains the greatest league through sheer velocity. Superstars are less important than speed.
Chelsea's unheralded youngsters taking on Watford are still a bigger draw than Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus beating Torino. Global viewing figures prove as much. The fast and furious nature of English football makes the competition the easiest to package and sell.
But VAR's constant interruptions are turning into irritating speed bumps, slowing down juggernauts unnecessarily and making each journey a bit of a slog.
In the dull Everton-Tottenham Hotspur game yesterday, the crowd booed a couple of penalty checks, with VAR adjudicators taking longer than the expected 30 seconds.
In both instances, the referee's original decisions were upheld. So what took so long? If VAR agreed with the referee, then the errors couldn't have been clear and obvious (they weren't).
One of the incidents - an alleged Dele Alli handball - required more than three minutes of deliberation. The tension dissipated. Goodison Park made less noise than a school exam. Athletes were left standing around for the accountants to finish with their calculations.
And the accountants were not even there, which downplays another character's role in the quintessential EPL drama.
The referee's authority has been outsourced to a third party, hiding in an industrial hub in Stockley Park, which is near Heathrow Airport and miles away from almost every EPL stadium.
Referees are very much part of the uniquely English pantomime. It's not big or clever, but the men in black are mocked and occasionally accused of being fatherless children.
Such abuse isn't condoned, but it's a reminder that every kick, tackle, goal and decision should ideally be settled within the football theatre. Otherwise, the spectacle is somehow watered down and weakened.
VAR was supposed to assist referees, not take the game away from them. The video assistants were expected to stay in the background, but are dominating centre stage by overstepping their boundaries.
Clear and obvious errors, mistaken identity, unseen fouls, howlers, and anything else that might have missed the fallible man in black were supposed to be checked and clarified.
There was nothing about armpits. That's where we are now, drawing lines and measuring armpit hairs like an obsessed teenager struggling with puberty.
Firmino's disallowed goal against Villa felt like a surrealist art installation, with a weird juxtaposition of lines and body parts put together to validate the original offside decision.
Invisible men with their fudging machines seemed determined to support the referee and preserve the status quo, which goes against the very reason for VAR's existence.
The replays are expected to correct mistakes, not act as character witnesses for referees. Instead, the shambolic technology is diminishing the game's authority, excitement, spontaneity and speed.
It cannot go on like this.
VAR may get many calls right, but the game has never felt more wrong.