There has been a lot of criticism of referees this season especially of late, after Martin Atkinson has failed to see critical decisions that seemed to the naked eye pretty straight forward. As we have all heard Mourinho has picked out minutes 30, 33, 43 and 69 to be the most critical point where Martin Atkinson really needed to do his job and failed. The most critical point of the game came on the 69th minute where Nemanja Matic was sent off for retaliating to what was a horrifying tackle by Burnley striker Ashley Barnes. I am not going to say Martin Atkinson was wrong for sending Nemanja Matic because he is not; Matic has responded to a tackle with violence even if it is one of the lowest forms of it but Martin Atkinson needed to pick up on that horrifying tackle from Ashley Barnes, who earlier in the game was lucky to avoid at least a yellow card for his foul on Branislav Ivanovic. However in Nemanja Matic defence, 99.9% of players whether it was Sunday League, five a side league or even a kick around at your local park with your mates, everyone would react in the same way! This is Nemanja Matic life he plays football to earn a living so tackles like that need to be eradicated from the game.
Let’s go back to 20th January 2015 to the Diego Costa incident during the Chelsea V Liverpool game in the Capital One Cup Semi Final 2nd leg, Diego Costa was handed a 3 game ban for his stamp on Emre Can and rightly so but how can the FA look back into situations like that and give Diego Costa a 3 match ban and ignore incidents for horrifying tackles like we have seen at the weekend. If I was Martin Atkinson I would have sent both players off and I would have explained to Nemanja Matic at the end of the game in a private conversation that I can fully understand his reaction but as a match official I had no choice but to send him off.
Another official I would like to pick out which can be deemed unfair or unprofessional but these issues need to be addressed is Phil Dowd. He should not be refereeing at the standard he is currently officiating because he is not fit enough and he is overweight. I am not saying he is an awful referee and that he should not work but I strongly believe he should drop down a division or two because currently he is often involved in high profile games whether they are relegation battles or top four challenges. He has been involved in two massive games this season:
Sunday 31st August 2014 – Tottenham V Liverpool (Top 4 Contenders)
Saturday 4th October 2014 – Leicester V Burnley (Two favourites to be relegated)
The two officials I have named above are not the route of the problem, I am not highlighting these two because they are the worst referees because they are not I have my own opinion who is the worst referee but that is maybe for a different day but these are just easy example of why the FA need to look into change!
What we always tend to hear from ex professionals and all football fans alike is that referees do not understand the game because they do not play it and they have been warped by rules and regulations and are so worried at how the FA will assess them that they tend to bottle out of big decisions and struggle to cope with the pressure and demands of the modern game. I think the FA could potentially look into giving ex professionals a fast tracked opportunity to officiate professional games whether it is Premier League, Championship or League 1 etc. I think they could come up with a programme and keep these professional athletes and give them an opportunity to continue working in the game. Modern day footballers are so well conditioned and healthy they seem to retire in great shape and often they struggle to adapt to life without football they want that buzz they want to be involved in high profile games. I do not think you will get Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard refereeing games when they retire because why would they? With their household name and the money they have earned they will always find work whether it is coaching or match punditry. Mind you just because they are good footballers does not mean they would be good referees because all you have to do is look at the household names who could not make it as a manager for example; Roy Keane, Alan Shearer and best of them all Diego Maradona. However why not give them the opportunity anyway and maybe lower league players who could not quite get to that level of football an opportunity to perform in the premier league one day and really make their mark on premier league football and maybe Europe! What will the FA have to lose? The FA could approach professionals from the ages of 28-35 to see if they can start the training procedure and see if the professional would be interested in gaining the qualification while finishing off and working round their current career. Whatever the logistics of this operation will be the FA need to try something different! In recent weeks I have heard rumours of Howard Webb coming out of retirement. Personally I cannot see this being true but it would be a major step back for the ‘Referees’ Association’ but it does show that something needs to be done about the continued decline of the standard of refereeing in all levels of football.
Mind you the standard of refereeing has always been questioned. Have things ever been any different? The ‘peoples pundit’ and ex England and Manchester United full back Gary Neville had criticised the FA back in 2009 for giving referees high profile games to gain experience rather than give the high profile games to the best official for that game, he claims and I agree that they need to earn the right to officiate these high profile games. He said:
‘Referees are having a tough time at the moment, but I must say that their decision-making doesn’t seem to be great in the big moments. No one can deny it is very difficult to be a referee, but they are supposed to be professionals.
‘These big games shouldn’t be about giving refs experience. They should have to earn it. The best players play for the big clubs and the best commentators commentate on the big games. That’s how it should be with refs.’
I think the key part to that statement is the first paragraph because 6 years on and we still think that referees are having a tough time of it and their decision making really is not helping them.
Questions that need to be asked are:
Would ex professionals want to do it?
Is it a realistic operation?
Will football be any different?
Is technology the way forward and strip referees of most their power?
All I know and everyone else in football know whether you are fan, a player or an ex professional. Something needs to change!