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Top referee Mark Clattenburg should book Chinese Super League for trying to buy credibility

Could a move to cashed-up China be on the cards for the man just adjudged the world’s best officiator?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 1:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 9:24pm

The Globe Soccer Award is probably the biggest football gong you have never heard about.

It’s the showcase event at the annual International Sports Conference of Dubai, an event the average football fan might also be unaware of, even though it is in its 11th year.

The jamboree of “a great many eminent personalities, including presidents, referees, managers, agents and world famous soccer players” takes place the week between Christmas and New Year. Maybe that’s the reason for the mass ignorance.

This week, among the guest luminaries was the “world’s greatest referee”, Englishman Mark Clattenburg.

He was invited to receive the Globe Soccer Award for his achievements, his high standards and his authority on the field of play.

Clattenburg had an exceptional 2016. He took charge of the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley, the Champions League showpiece between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in Milan, and the Euro 2016 final between France and Portugal at the Stade de France in Paris.

He was also praised for his calm handling of crowd trouble during the group match between the Czech Republic and Croatia in Saint-Etienne.

The 41-year-old, who earns £100,000 (HK$952,000) a year, is deserving of the award and hats off to him.

Sometime during the two-day event, however, it was reported Clattenburg was approached by representatives from the Chinese Super League, who offered him great riches to up sticks and referee in the real home of football (for China invented the game, according to Fifa’s marketing department).

You can imagine the scene: Clattenburg is relaxing on a sun lounge, sipping a cocktail out of a whistle-shaped glass, admiring his famous forearm tattoos of the Champions League and Euro 2016 logos as they tan nicely in the desert winter sunbeams.

He looks up to discover a bevy of dark-suited technocrats, each carrying briefcases, wearing cheesy grins and mopping sweat beads off their foreheads with white hankies.

“Ni hao, Mr Clattenburg, we have an offer for you,” they say as they open the cases and nod invitingly to Clattenburg.

“We want you to come join the likes of Ramires, Hulk, Graziano Pelle, Tevez and Oscar as a foreign expert on squillions a week to give our league a sheen of credibility and please the football-mad boss in Beijing. Oh!, and to appease the Chinese fans who we fear will revolt if cannot clean up our act. Please, do consider!” implore the suits.

If you want a top ref to help improve the image of a nation’s football long plagued by match-fixing and corruption, then Clattenburg is your man.

He’s suave, fashion conscious and in the past 12 months has earned 141 points in the world ref ranking table, making him top dog.

Depending on your match-day bias, Clattenburg is a good, honest ref; he’s firm, fair and knows the offside rule like the back of his hand. Well, most of the time.

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But he’s human, too. UK bookmakers are offering odds of 25-1 for him to make the unprecedented move to China.

There’s no doubting Clattenburg’s presence in China would add gravitas and inspire those Chinese refs who want to officiate games by the rules instead of being nobbled by the racketeers.

Just what China’s football masters seek to achieve by their global shopping spree of players, managers and refs remains unclear.

And what will they purchase and import next in their quest for authenticity? English fans? The Kop? Soggy, scalding overpriced pies? Beer-bellied Geordies from Newcastle’s Toon Army waving black and white scarves while topless in a January gale?

Seriously, does Beijing really want to conquer the world of football to appease and distract the masses – or do they really want to clean up and improve the domestic game?

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The answer is likely both. If Clattenburg takes up the offer, he must do so for the right reason – the betterment of Chinese football for players and fans, rather than to improve his bank balance and make his potential employers look good for a month or two.

Until China weeds out all corruption, starting at the grass-roots level, Clattenburg’s service would serve merely to cement the widely held belief that Beijing is trying to buy credibility rather than earn it.

So until proven otherwise, Clattenburg would be wise to heed the call from supporters and show the CSL his first red card of 2017.