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The Officials’ View

Without officials we don’t have a game. This section is dedicated to their take on the game and some of the controversies that surround it.



Clattenburg Affair a Sad Comment on Today’s Footballing Culture

Written by on November 29, 2012 | 4 Comments »
Posted in Chelsea, The Officials' View

So it has come to this.

To recap:  A month ago,  Chelsea football club (already under heavy fire for racial comments made by their players in past days) request an investigation into alleged racial comments made to their players by a respected premier league official during a match.

Far from keeping the request under wraps, though, Chelsea officials (including their communications director and then-manager Roberto Di Matteo) engage in vague discussion about the allegations in subsequent interviews.  They then release an unnecessary and inflamatory statement which could serve only to direct public attention to the unproven allegations. 

Out of “respect for the process” (their words) they did not provide any details, but it cannot help but be noticed that they made sure they had communications staff available to deflect the questions thus arising, nor that those staff members would not normally be part of a manager’s post match interview.  Given the circumstances, such an action is tantamount to poking a hornet’s nest and running.

While the exact nature of the allegations have not been made public, what is known is that certain players advised the club that they believed referee Mark Clattenburg had directed ‘racial language’ at John Obi Mikel during the October 28th match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge.

The FA duly investigated (in a manner that was compromised by the statements & actions of Chelsea), and last week issued a verdict of “no case to answer” (link) against Clattenburg.  In effect, then, the FA found that there were no grounds whatsoever for the complaint and no proof that the incident described occurred.

For his part, Obi Mikel has given evidence that he did not hear the comment but was advised of it by another player (Ramires).  Ramires has stated that he was seeking “confirmation” of what he believed he heard Clattenburg say rather than advising Mikel of the statement.  Given that Mikel was talking to Clattenburg when the alleged incident occurred and was much closer to the referee than Ramires, both claims strain credulity.  It cannot escape notice that both players appear to have backed away from their initial more incendiary claims and positions.  Rats do tend to flee a burning ship, of course.

The FA has unsurprisingly taken as neutral a stance as possible on this.  Clearly it does not want to be seen to castigate teams for making a claim, nor to discourage those who may have a legitimate claim from coming forward.  Nonetheless, the FA have charged Obi Mikel with misconduct relating to his reaction and behavior toward match officials at the end of the fixture.  They have thus far stopped short of suggesting Obi Mikel or Ramires lied about the incident.

On November 28th Chelsea  issued a carefully worded statement claiming that they “regret” not having given more consideration before issuing their statement; that they ‘regret’ the intense media scrutiny on Clattenburg and family; and that they would have “no issue” with Clattenburg being appointed to officiate Chelsea games in future.  They also, graciously, claimed that they felt honor-bound to refer what they believed to be “good faith” allegations to the FA under rules in effect.

With all due respect to the FA’s need to remain impartial, their actions are not nearly strong enough.  As a member of PGMOL, Clattenburg cannot reasonably employ the normal legal channels an ordinary citizen might to respond to slander or libel.  As such, the FA has a responsibility to address these matters on his behalf.

Players (and a prominent club) have made strong allegations against a match official.  Those allegations carry consequences for the official, including the possibility of ending his career.  Clattenburg has already missed four weekends of PL work and has had his name unfairly and unreasonably dragged through the mud.  Even after being cleared, he will always be subject to suspicion in the minds of some (not just Chelsea fans).  It will be interesting to see how his PL and international appointments may be affected in the future, though of course if he is overlooked this will never come with an explanatory note referring to the Chelsea-inspired firestorm.

As lawyers are fond of saying, “You can’t unring a bell”.

The club, despite it’s desperate efforts to wash it’s hands of the claim, are not without blame in this fiasco.  Along with their “duty” to pass along allegations of this type, they also carry a hefty responsibility to conduct their own internal investigation to ensure that the claim made is not without merit.  Given that they released a public statement indicating that their internal investigation was complete and the matter referred to the FA on the evening of the match, it would seem their process was perfunctory at best.

It is a common practice in any corporation or workplace to conduct “harassment” training for employees.  One of the very first things employees learn in these courses is that patently false and/or baseless accusations are themselves an act of harassment punishable under the same schedule as the offense itself.  Football cannot treat false allegations any less serious.

Behind Chelsea’s crocodile tears are a few clear and uncomfortable facts:  They had a responsibility to investigate the ‘good faith’ claims made by their players.  They were not honor bound to report any claim made (particularly those which they found baseless), nor was there any requirement for them to issue a statement of any kind publicly, much less the disgraceful and incendiary missive they rushed out on match-night.

It is possible that the players were adamant that they would stand behind their claim and have now come up with twin cases of embarrassing cowardice.  Perhaps that makes Chelsea’s referral of the matter less problematic, but it does nothing to absolve them of the responsibility to prove the claim.

At a minimum, the FA needs to fine the club heavily for it’s public actions.  It cannot be argued that the baseless claims brought the game and the EPL as a whole into disrepute.  In addition, both Obi Mikel and Ramires need to be heavily reprimanded (including suspension and fines).  Had they been as equivocal to Chelsea’s investigators as they were to the FA, this matter would never have left the clubhouse.  No-one can be allowed to make or perpetuate a false accusation of racism with impunity.

And for the once-respected football club itself?

Part of issuing a “Mea Culpa” includes actually apologizing.  Chelsea Football Club owes the FA, the EPL and it’s sponsors, the referees association (PGMOL), and Clattenburg personally a very public apology.  A healthy donation to charity (equivalent to the FA/EPL fine) would help demonstrate the contrition they claim to feel, too.

As the saying goes, are they sorry they “did it” or are they just sorry that they got caught?


A Video Technology Thought Experiment

Written by on April 11, 2012 | 60 Comments »
Posted in The Officials' View

No subject seems to create more controversy and debate in soccer as the possibility of the use of video replays. Yet rarely do we get much more further than a “yes we should” on one side and “no we shouldn’t” on the other.

So, in the interest of furthering the argument beyond the banal, I thought we would use the often used tool of the “thought experiment” to establish where we each stand on the subject and how we would each interpret it in very specific circumstances.

Below then are four hypothetical incidents that the use of video review would influence (try not to be swayed by the teams or the players involved when reaching your decision).

  In a Liverpool versus Tottenham game a Luka Modric free-kick is powered toward the net by a Ledley King header but the goal line is crowded and the ball is somehow cleared. At the next break in play Harry Redknapp calls for a video review of the incident which reveals that the ball did not cross the line but only because Luis Suarez cleared it with his hand.

Should the goal be given and Suarez red carded or, because the technology is only to be used to decide whether the ball crossed the line, should no goal be awarded? 

El Clasico is reaching the final minute with the scores level. Cristiano Ronaldo pounces on a Javier Mascherano mistake and is suddenly presented with a clear run on goal. He rounds the keeper and, from a tight angle, hits the ball toward the net. A desperate Mascherano tries to prevent the goal with a last-ditch clearance but the assistant referee immediately signals that the ball has crossed the line.

An overjoyed Ronaldo rushes to the Madrid fans and, in his excitement, removes his shirt and throws it into the melee. The referee issues Ronaldo with his second yellow card of the game and he is sent off. On video review it is concluded that Mascherano successfully cleared the ball and the goal does not stand.

But should Ronaldo’s second yellow? 

In an LA Galaxy versus Red Bulls MLS Cup Final with the scores level in the final minute a Thierry Henry free kick strikes the underside of the bar and bounces out. David Beckham immediately hits a long ball to a free Robbie Keane who, while attempting to take the ball around Red Bulls keeper Ryan Meara, is brought down in the penalty area. The referee points to the spot and issues a red card to Meara. Before the kick is taken video review reveals that the Henry free kick did indeed cross the line and a goal is awarded to New York

Do the penalty or the red card (or both) still stand? 

In the final minute of extra time in an Old Firm Scottish Cup semi-final Celtic’s Gergios Samaras heads a Kris Commons corner toward the net but he ball is headed clear from the line. Video review reveals that the ball crossed the line but also that it curled behind the goal line directly from the corner.

Should the goal be given and the game go to penalties or should a simple goal kick to Rangers be awarded?

Answers below please and it will be interesting to hear your thoughts. 

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Empathy for the Official

Written by on April 2, 2012 | 9 Comments »
Posted in The Officials' View

During the Champions League games of last week Bobby tweeted the thought that it would be interesting to see how the television commentators would fare if they were allowed to referee a game every now and then.

Obviously the many upsides of this experiment appealed to me.

The hilarity of watching people who seem to have barely glanced at the laws of the game trying to make split second decisions would be one of them, as would the simple fact that we would no longer have to listen to them while the game was taking place.

But then I became more self-reflective and began to wonder how I would fare if I were given the stopwatch and whistle?

How would any of us who watch the game for enjoyment cope with unique pressure of the role?

The truth is that very few of us can can give an accurate or honest answer to that question because we have never actually experienced what it’s like to be a referee.

Conversely I know for a fact that I would be a disaster playing the holding midfield role for Barcelona because I’ve kicked a ball about on a pitch and have had ample proof that I’m not as good as Mascherano, but I’ve never once tried to make a real live penalty decision at any level so have no idea how that feels or what the difficulties are.

Similarly the playing experience that the vast majority of fans have (no matter what the level) helps to inform them about other aspects of the game.

They know that a forward who has hit the ball high over the bar did so because he was leaning back, they know that a defender who has lost his man has done so because he was watching the ball and not the player.

Yet they are often willing to forgive these transgressions because they themselves have, in some small way, made the same mistakes.

But how many of us really know why a referee missed the pull of a shirt, or awarded a corner when replays clearly show that it was a goal-kick?

How many of us know the correct position that the referee should take at corner kicks or could say with certainty that a crucial decision was missed for a specific reason?

And because we don’t know why these mistakes were made, because we can’t empathise with the referee’s predicament we assign their failure to simple incompetence rather than showing the generosity of spirit that we give to (much more highly paid) players.

How frustrating must it be for the modern-day match officials when so few of us actually have a clue what the role really involves and so many of us are so quick to condemn them?

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You can also find other Soccer Report contributors on Twitter by following this link.

Have some thoughts and opinions you want to express?  The Training Ground is your chance. Just click on the link.

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