The Rational Ref

Referees don't have it easy, Jose … it's actually quite hard

Mourinho should know that in the English Pemier League it is the world's most difficult sports officiating job

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 9:42pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 9:42pm

Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's menacing manager of Jekyll and Hyde proportions, claims referees "have an easy life". Pound for pound, minute by minute and integrity with integrity, Mourinho could not be more wrong.

The truth is the worldwide popularity of the EPL and other major tournaments coupled with the game's technophobe decision-makers refusing to help make life easier for the men in black have made soccer refereeing the most challenging sports officiating job in the world.

The 20 or so EPL referees are all full-time professionals and are an exception to the vast majority of an estimated five million referees around the world. However, owing to the EPL's high media profile, by default this group of referees sets the standard of officiating for others to follow.

The suspicion is referees have, unofficially, used it before to make crucial decisions
William Lai

EPL referees receive an annual salary of up to HK$840,000, a paltry sum compared with what EPL players and managers receive every week. Most referees have their own jobs and do not officiate primarily to make a living.

Furthermore, it should be obvious that referees are expected to demonstrate integrity, honesty and impartiality, which are positive traits not commonly seen among players and managers who possess a mercenary mentality and win-at-all-costs attitude.

Yet Mourinho, in the aftermath of his team's loss to Aston Villa, claims referees have it easy. His team played in their characteristic negative style, creating few chances, and contributed to a tough physical battle. Referee Chris Foy correctly sent off two Chelsea players and also banished Mourinho to the stands.

Even Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert dismissed Mourinho's scathing comments. "I know what Jose's doing. If you go on about decisions, it deflects from the performance," said Lambert.

Mourinho also admitted trying to talk with Foy in the referees' room, even though accepted convention dictates nobody can approach referees for at least 30 minutes after the match. It seems there is one rule for all but another, special rule for the "special one".

Therefore, in terms of money received and abuse tolerated with good grace referees certainly do not have it easy. And for all their effort, dedication and commitment, they could do with some help, especially at the highest levels of the game where the intensity of scrutiny and criticism are greatest.

Last weekend top referee Andre Marriner, who officiated last year's FA Cup final (and who will be the guest referee at the HKFC Citibank Soccer Sevens in May), made a serious mistake by sending off the wrong player in the Chelsea-Arsenal match.

For the good of the game why not use video technology?

The suspicion is referees have, unofficially, used it before to make crucial decisions. Fifa still has not effectively explained how 2006 World Cup final referee Horacio Elizondo received incontrovertible information to send off France's Zinedine Zidane. It is believed Zidane's now-infamous headbutt was spotted only after the fourth official viewed the incident on a pitchside monitor. None of the linesmen reportedly saw it.

Similarly, in the 2009 Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Egypt, Howard Webb and his linesmen missed a handball on the goal line and initially awarded a corner to Brazil. Note that this is eerily like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's handball that was apparently missed by Marriner who also initially awarded a corner. On taking advice from his fourth official, Webb changed his decision and correctly sent off Egypt's Ahmed El Mohamady and awarded a penalty to Brazil.

Whether or not the game's technophobe decision-makers would care to admit it, these examples prove video replays can effectively help referees from making serious blunders.

Incidentally, this is not Marriner's first case of mistaken identity. About five years ago, he cautioned the wrong Wolves player in a game at Anfield - but fourth official Phil Dowd spotted this error and the correct player was subsequently cautioned.

There are those who claim this undermines the authority of the referee. Rational Ref reckons referees would prefer to be informed by colleagues of any obvious mistakes prior to play restarting. This allows for the correct decision to be made, and for justice to prevail. What's so scary about that?

A Final Note: It is with poetic justice that Hugh Watkins has been appointed as Hong Kong rugby's new referees development manager. Having received a 12-week ban by the Welsh Rugby Union for criticising South African referee Marius van der Westhuizen's decision not to red-card Fijian Ilai Tinai for a tip-tackle on Wales player Lee Williams in last year's final, the outspoken and uncompromising Watkins has clearly made an impression with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union. It just goes to show there is nothing wrong in speaking up for what you believe in. Happy officiating to all Rugby Sevens referees this weekend.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com