Over the years I have seen many top referees perform at the top level in various leagues. The likes of Philip Don, Keith Hackett, Pier Luigi Collina, Dermott Gallagher, Sandor Puhl, John Carpenter, Mario Van Der Ende and Jan Keizer have long since retired from the game but have left everlasting memories for all of us who love the part of the game which is called refereeing. When I think back to when these guys officiated I am reminded that they very rarely made mistakes and controversy was never really seen. The story in today’s game is totally different and disappointing in my opinion. I have often asked myself how has it become so difficult and the answer that keeps coming back to me is the involvement on a huge scale by TV. Back in the day when all the guys I have mentioned were officiating there were not so many cameras in the grounds and pundits were not able to review things from every angle. Now I am not saying the guys back then got off lightly but at least they did not have to put up with been hammered week in and week out by former players who were sitting in warm studios analysing games. Football as we know moves on and over the years has got a lot faster and far more technical, a referees life has become so difficult these days as many players and coaches advocate winning at all costs. For my column this week I would like to have a look at two performances in the Barclay’s Premier League. The men in question are Michael Oliver and Mike Jones who took charge of the Manchester United against Liverpool game and the clash in Wales between Swansea and Arsenal.
Mark Clattenburg in my opinion and indeed many others is the best referee in the world at the moment. I was rather surprised that he was not put in charge of the Manchester United game. The game was awarded to Michael Oliver and it made my Sunday much more interesting as I sat down to see not only how the game would go, but to see what sort of performance Michael would put in. What you have to remember about this actual fixture is the fact that it is played in a white hot atmosphere. It is imperative that the referee keeps a lid on things and shows himself to be in total control, this game can actually destroy a referee if it goes wrong. I need not have worried because in my opinion Michael had a brilliant game. From the moment he blew his first whistle Michael was in total control and let the players know it. His coolness to keep a lid on things was the making of his game. There were not a lot of big issues to call in the game but his decision to award Liverpool a penalty after Pogba handled was spot on. It was a brave call to make at Old Trafford but in my opinion it was the correct one. If I was to point out his only error it was when United equalised, Valencia was clearly in an offside position but Michael’s assistant failed to flag. This can be so annoying for a referee who is having a blinder only to be let down by one of his team. In fairness the officials got away with it and I am glad they did, as in my opinion this was probably one of the best refereeing performances of the season.
Another referee who has come under the microscope this season has been Mike Jones. Unfortunately for Mike, controversy seems to follow him around and he does not help himself by adding fuel to an already hot fire by awarding some of the most strangest of decisions. Last Saturday week Mike took charge of the Swansea and Arsenal game. In the game he turned down a huge penalty call for Swansea and in my opinion on this occasion he got it correct. A lot of people will disagree with me including Swansea manager Paul Clement, but by not awarding the spot kick Mike highlighted an area where TV pundits have failed to address. When Ki Sung made contact with Arsenal defender Koscielny in the penalty area the official was correct not to award a spot kick, in fairness to the official his yellow card was excellent as well. There are far to many players in today’s game that the moment they enter the penalty area they look to hit the ground. Mike was spot on with his decision and although it was once again controversy involving the official, this time I will back him to the hilt. Well done that man I say.
So there you have it, two totally different officials having superb games in my opinion. It in fact is great to report on, as it has been a rough couple of months for officials and let us hope the boys have got their acts together for the final couple of months of the season. I will be surprised though if we are not talking about more controversy in the not to distant future.