After this weekend’s latest Premier League offering served up several harsh red cards and not so clear-cut penalties, the state of English officiating is once again under review.
The standard of Premier League refereeing is a topic that simply never goes away. For one reason or another, the likes of Chris Foy, Andre Marriner, and of course the ever in the spot-light Mark Clattenburg, find themselves at the heartbeat of English football for both good and bad reasons.
Whilst the state of English refereeing has certainly progressed with today’s football age, what are the key issues that still hold back the overall standard of Premier League officiating?
Well to start with diving has been, and always will, a very contentious issue for referees. It’s hard to know who just exactly who is really to blame, however. Is it all the result of players going to ground too easily, looking to con the officials? Or do the refs need to take the responsibility because of their inconsistent stance over the subject of diving?
There was once a time when English players and the Premier League used to be exempt from this kind of cheating. British pride would often turn its nose up at the play-acting and blatant diving that was all so present in the rest of Europe, but those days are now well and truly over. The likes of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley have recently come under the spot-light for their weak knees in the box, but refs must be in a position to take command over these situations and rightly punish players when they are accused of ‘simulation’.
The media also have a huge role to play in this debate. When ex-players and figures within the football community, usually the likes of Alan Shearer and friends on MOTD, shout ‘stone wall penalty’ over every bit of contact they see in the box, they really are encouraging diving and simulation among those who play the game.
It’s almost as if they want to see a penalty given every match, and on the basis of that attitude, football could soon turn into a contact-less sport. The media and carefree talk doesn’t help referees looking to build a sense of consistency within their all so important role.
Another major factor that has everybody talking at the moment comes in the form of off-ball pushing and shirt-holding in the box – the complete other end of the scale to diving.
Two schools of thought largely dominate this debate. Some say that holding onto your man during corners and free-kicks is all part and parcel of today’s game. Defenders are meant to defend their goal, and a penalty would have to be given several times a match if refs were to actually come down hard on it.
Others with a more purist attitude towards the game, however, have no time for any off-ball antics in the box. If officials were to clamp down hard on this behaviour, there may be a few too many reds brandished initially, but it would soon stop overnight if officials were determined enough to clear it out of today’s game.
Whilst this debate again makes things difficult for refs, the final area of controversy that the Premier League is witnessing right now is the advent of time-wasting. This is obviously a phenomenon that has been part of football since day one, but today it has reach a whole new level.
Refs seem completely clueless as to what to do when players go down, and stay down, whilst the opposition has the ball. Far too often we see exciting counter-attacks sacrificed for some wry player who doesn’t really need an ounce of treatment, but has nevertheless successfully succeeded in bringing the match to a halt.
English officials have so far been left largely stranded in these situations, but with the use of a Rugby inspired stop-clock, no time would actually be wasted and the full 90 minutes would be played without the notorious ‘Fergie-time’ periods on the side.
Overall then the refs have got a lot on their plate this season, some of which has been born out of their own naivety and lack of consistency, whilst players and the media must also take a fair share of the blame for what they have contributed to.
The F.A. should therefore never stop looking to technology to help their officials out, because at this stage in the proceedings, it seems that Premier League referees really need all the help they can get.