THE race for the title is motoring along, and yet it’s the Premier League’s race to the bottom hogging all the headlines.

Say what you like about VAR – everybody is, all the time - and all that has spiralled from its introduction, but it’s hard to remember a time when football felt as angry as it does in 2023. I include the days when running battles on the terraces, or even on the pitch, were a thing in that, because even when the game was plagued by physical violence, I’m not sure people were as angry all the time as they are now.

It's different now, the perma-rage borne of constant righteous indignation, of innuendos around far-reaching, insidious conspiracies against your club, and your club only. It’s managers feeding into those ideas of corruption on worldwide television, ideas which are so compelling to so many supporters. After all, channelling rage towards faceless, insidious forces collaborating against their club – an undisputed force for good – is easier than making peace with the notion that in a sport defined by subjectivity and split-second decisions, sometimes things will go against you.

This is where we have landed in the fantastical pursuit of eradicating error and injustice from refereeing, to the point that high-profile matches very rarely come and go without VAR being at the centre of discussion. Anger has always been a near-default position when it comes to football, but it has never felt so disingenuous.

At the root of it is, of course, eternal frustration with the video tech. Refereeing calls have forever been the number one source of post-match ire for managers, players, fans, and pundits, but it is plumbing new and increasingly unedifying depths now that the one thing that was meant to fix that particular problem has failed. The claim that everyone used to grudgingly accept poor decisions against their team is a bit of a myth, but much of the hooting and howling that followed centred on our apparently dire need to introduce VAR as a matter of urgency.

What fills that void, that ferocious need for someone or something to blame, now that it’s here but the same things continue to happen? The latest trend seems to be clubs throwing their toys out of the pram, but dressing it up as a moral crusade to better the game for everyone.

You just knew when a wild-eyed Mikel Arteta breathed fire in the direction of a poor Sky Sports reporter at the weekend that matters would not begin and end with a good, old-fashioned post-match rant. Sure enough, the indignant club statement followed, lamenting the standard of officials, and basically calling once again for the pre-VAR pipe dream that anything less than complete eradication of errors is unacceptable.

It's just that Arsenal’s apparent concern with ensuring fairness for all rings a tad hollow when they, like other clubs, are only interested in doing so when it suits them; when it’s convenient to placate a fanbase baying for blood. There was conspicuous silence from North London when, earlier this season, the Gunners were the beneficiaries of two very marginal calls which aided them to victory over Manchester United.

It's not a blind spot exclusive to Arsenal, they’re just the latest to be selective with their indignation, but it’s one that makes constructive discussion leading to progress very difficult. Everyone's position being 'the blunders that benefit me are fine, the ones that do not are an unmitigated outrage' just isn't going to work. Don’t get me wrong, I think VAR is rubbish, and football would be better off without it. But I also know that it’s too late to turn back the clock on it, which begs the question: where does it all go from here?

For some, the anger is unquestionably good for business. It provides endless hours of debate on TV and radio – the more incandescent the better. Driving home the other evening, I happened upon a talkSPORT segment where two presenters – both ex-players – invited a fan on-air to discuss decisions which had gone against his team, then lay in wait like two mic’d up XL Bully’s to frenziedly steam in and brand the guy ‘pathetic’ for answering the question they’d posed him.

Maybe that’s the thing – anger in the game is going nowhere no matter what, so in a football world more accessible than ever, is for various stakeholders to encourage, exploit and leverage it to their benefit. It’s why – when it’s so easy to appeal to this most base instinct – it was interesting to see Ange Postecoglou take, on the surface, a different tact.

His Tottenham side had just been involved in a chaotic 90 minutes  against Chelsea where VAR had been placed front and centre, and not to their benefit. Instead of crying conspiracy, Postecoglou essentially stuck up for the officials and pined wistfully for the days when the on-pitch referee’s decision was final, and we all liked it or lumped it. It was refreshing, and Postecoglou knows well how to position himself in these debates, even though you get the impression he’d rather not get involved at all.

That being said, it’s just as well nobody down south gives a flying [redacted] about anything that occurred when he was Celtic manager, because ‘big Ange’ wasn’t always so understanding of the difficult job facing SPFL officials. But, anyway, his tuppence worth might just catalyse a shift towards what comes next. It’s clear that an increasing proportion of viewers are becoming weary of the endless fury around VAR and all things refereeing. The reaction to Arteta’s missive, and to Liverpool going similarly nuclear earlier in the campaign, was not all that positive among the Premier League’s more influential commentariat.

I wouldn’t bet against other managers copying Postecoglou’s more magnanimous approach the next time they’re on the end of a sore one from VAR. Or, maybe, that’s just wishful thinking. At the current rate of meltdowns, we won’t be long in finding out.