Clattenburg’s time out exposes crisis in the game
Administrators, managers, players, pundits and journalists should all hang their heads in shame at the news that Mark Clattenburg, one of the best referees in the English game, has felt the need to take a month off in the wake of the relentless criticism of his performances
Last month Clattenburg was in the spotlight after failing to book or send off Wayne Rooney when the Manchester United striker elbowed Wigan Athletic’s James McCarthy in an off-the-ball incident in a Premier League match that eventually led to FIFA and the FA arguing about whether video evidence could be used to penalise a player after a referee had seen and taken action on an incident
On Saturday he was lambasted again for giving a late penalty against Blackburn Rovers that even the club’s complaining manager reluctantly admitted was “technically correct” – i.e. – absolutely right.
Now, heartily sick of the circle of complaint and, no doubt frustrated by the lack of support forthcoming from the people who run the sport, he has opted to step out of the limelight.
The only surprise is that this sort of thing has not happened before as the relentless climate of questioning and undermining of officials at every level is producing anarchy.
English football is by no means alone in suffering from the problem, as the culture of re-running replays of every incident and analysing and criticising refereeing decisions has become a staple of media soccer coverage around the world.
FIFA and the national federations should shoulder a large part of the blame for allowing the situation to get as bad as it is. Years of standing back and watching players surround referees, screaming and gesticulating like spoiled toddlers at decisions that go against them, has meant that that has become the norm.
Why hasn’t Sepp Blatter stood up and announced that FIFA would support any referee who booked every player who swore in his face – even if it led to six red cards in the first 20 minutes?
Players know they will not be punished so let loose at will – from the injustice of something like Frank Lampard’s disallowed World Cup goal right down to a contested throw-in on the halfway line five minutes into a mundane league match.
The various expensive campaigns of “fair play please” and “respect” look laughable in the face of what actually goes on.
It is hardly original to suggest football takes a look at the way rugby is run but the comparison still stands. In a game far more physically demanding where the laws are more complex and far more open to interpretation than soccer, players and managers give the officials absolute respect. From the World Cup final to an under-10s game – it is a fundamental of the sport.
Footballers, of course, bear the responsibility to behave themselves but misbehaviour and abuse is all they have ever known and seen since the day they started watching and playing the game, so why should they be expected to be any different.
They have seen that mass pressurising of referees can influence decisions so continue to argue, appeal complain and abuse without fear of punishment.
Which is where the managers come in, or at least they could. Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson is probably the most influential manager in Britain, if not the world, yet his approach could hardly be said to set a shining example. He laughed off Clattenburg’s failure to show Rooney a yellow or red card, saying “it was nothing”, then a week later ordered a club-wide media silence when he felt some decisions had gone against the team in the defeat by Liverpool.
Do the former-player pundits who grace the sofas in TV studios condemn what they see? Of course not. Once they have watched an incident 12 times from five camera angles to make sure they are right, they happily let loose on the officials who they lambast on a weekly basis for “not getting the big decisions right.”
Even when a linesman gets a tight call right, no easy matter under the confusion of guidelines that now pass as the offside law, analysts all too often see some sort of fault. “He was offside but it was marginal,” as if getting it right when it was close was some sort of offence against natural justice.
The first question asked after almost every match now concerns a “key” refereeing decision. The manager duly unloads his criticism, very often prefacing the tirade with a “I’m not one to criticise refs, it’s a hard job, but…”
It is a very hard job, and an impossible one if their performance is to be measured against the all-seeing eye of television.
Does everyone imagine there is a huge pool of potentially great referees just waiting to be called upon to replace the current crop? The officials taking charge of Premier League games have spent years, sometimes decades, climbing the ranks, being regularly assessed, trained and examined.
They are fitter and faster than any previous generation and now communicate via radio link with their linesmen – also fitter and better-trained than their predecessors.
When they get a decision right, more often than not, the player and manager on the receiving end will still find cause for complaint.
They will also make mistakes and miss incidents. It is impossible not to, and until everyone involved in the game starts to accept that, the situation will only get worse.
PHOTO: Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney gestures towards referee Mark Clattenburg after clashing with Wigan Athletics’ James McCarthy (L) during their English Premier League soccer match in Wigan, February 26, 2011. REUTERS/Phil Noble