The Hearts manager, who was recently handed a touchline ban following his criticism of referee Bobby Madden, attended the SFA summit aimed at stemming the growing animosity between match officials and the clubs, with many managers verbally lashing out at refereeing performances this season and he left the meeting buoyed by the realisation that referees as well as managers see video backup as the best way forward.
“For me, without hesitation, the most important thing in Scottish football right now is to bring VAR in,” said Levein, who will have to watch tomorrow’s Scottish Cup tie against Livingston from the stand after some contentious decisions in his team’s league loss to Rangers saw his frustration boil over. There have been several other instances of managers criticising officials, but all are agreed that the threats issued to referee John Beaton after the recent Old Firm game were unacceptable.
“It would get rid of the current problems – which obviously manifested themselves in John Beaton being harassed recently and I believe that VAR would stop it. Immediately. It might cost a little bit of money. But the cost to Scottish football, in terms of the bad publicity that is created, makes it a no-brainer for me. That was the mood in the room.
“There’s a new TV deal which is significantly improved on the old deal and I accept that if you hand money out to clubs and ask for money back, it’s a problem. But if you take the money off at source, then nobody misses it – particularly if we’re all getting an increase anyway. And I don’t think there is anybody, in their right mind, who could want the situation that is going on just now to continue. So VAR solves the problem. Simple as that.
“I don’t know what the timescales are but, in my opinion, the sooner the better.”
The second issue which appeared to resonate with the managers and referees in the room was the need for greater understanding, and Hibernian manager Neil Lennon felt that the talks had been beneficial in clearing the air.
“There was no awkwardness. There was debate but there was no raised voices,” said Lennon, who was one of ten top flight managers who attended the Perth summit. “It was people putting their points of view across, quite eloquently and quite forthright at times, and it was good to see both points of view. I think it went well and I think the referees were very good and all the managers had a bit of a say as well. It wasn’t wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
But in appealing for mutual respect, he refused to rule out further digs at officials this term if clubs feel hard done by.
“I don’t think there was an embargo on that but I think we all do need to take some responsibility after games in terms of how we word things, myself included, and try to find a little bit more balance. There are times when that can be difficult when emotions are running high and you are always going to be thrown curveball questions by the broadcasters looking for an instant reaction. But what happened to John is just not good enough and it is unpalatable. I certainly don’t want to see that because we have some very good referees and they have, on the whole, been good this season – and that is coming from me!
“One of the guys said he didn’t sleep for four nights after he made a wrong decision so they all know that mistakes can be costly, not only for the clubs, the managers and the players but for themselves as well.”