Referee snub highlights UK’s officiating problem

2018-06-10 06:07
2018 Soccer World Cup (Supplied)

Johannesburg - After Mark Clattenburg’s departure from England to Saudi Arabia in February last year, Britain will be without a World Cup referee for the first time in its post-war history. On the surface, this is a remarkable statistic, but on closer analysis, it isn’t a huge shock.

Howard Webb was the only British official at the past two World Cups and Clattenburg was on course to succeed him, but his untimely departure from the Premier League left no time for a replacement, according to Professional Game Match Officials Limited chief Mike Riley.

“Mark was included in the long list of people who were selected for preparation for the World Cup and all those referees have been through a training programme,” Riley told Sky Sports News.

“At the time Mark left for Saudi Arabia, there were actually no competitions left to train the referees, so there was no opportunity to replace him with another English referee.”

The former Premier League referee singled out Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor – widely regarded as the two best refs in England – as potential flag bearers in future major international tournaments.

Oliver, in particular, has reason to be upset about missing out. At the age of just 33, he has proven himself as a world-class referee, most recently in Real Madrid’s Uefa Champions League quarter-final second leg against Juventus, which saw the Spanish club progress on aggregate thanks to a last-gasp Cristiano Ronaldo penalty.

It was brave of Oliver to first correctly award the game-changing spot-kick and then send off Gianluigi Buffon for a shameless attempt at intimidation. Buffon criticised Oliver for what he perceived as heartlessness, but, in reality, the referee’s unemotional approach ensured justice was served.

While Oliver will be missed at the World Cup, his relative youth means that, in all likelihood, we can look forward to seeing him in Qatar four years from now.

At 39, Taylor is also far from over the hill, although he will probably not fancy his chances of making the 2022 tournament quite as much as Oliver will.

Fifa has released a list of 35 referees for the World Cup finals. Given that only the US had more than one representative on that list (Jair Marrufo and Mark Geiger), the fact that there isn’t a Brit among them is far from disastrous.

However, what is of concern is that no British assistant referee or video assistant referee was chosen, either, adding fuel to doubts over the quality of officiating in the Premier League. Former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger and former referees’ chief Keith Hackett were among those to recently criticise the standard of refereeing in England.

Webb was the centre of attention in the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa – admittedly not always for the right reasons, as some criticised his performance. Nevertheless, Britain has not produced a referee to match him since. Oliver may eventually overtake him if he lives up to his potential, but the majority of British officials need to take Fifa’s snub as a wake-up call. –TEAMtalk Media

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