The Standard of Refereeing

Referees and officiating in the Premier League this season has been a huge talking point. Here’s The Anfield Talk’s Chris (@EmreCanderson) weighing in on the discussion.

It was revealed yesterday that there will be no British referees at the World Cup in Russia. 36 officials have been chosen for the tournament but none will be from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. There are also no British officials among the 63 assistant referees that have been selected.

This isn’t a surprise.

The officials who have served in the Premier League this season have been, quite frankly, a disgrace. The campaign so far has been littered with inaccurate refereeing decision from a number of incompetent officials.

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Arsene Wenger warned that no British officials would be going to the World Cup earlier in the season. He was awarded a touch line ban. Stoke City boss Mark Hughes has also voiced his frustration with officials, as has Man City boss Pep Guardiola.

This shows a massive problem with refereeing, one that perhaps isn’t an easy fix. There is no accountability when it comes to referees. Managers can’t criticise them without being punished, even when the criticism is more than justified. If a manager or a player has a poor game then they must defend their actions in press conferences or interviews. If a referee has a poor game then he gets to hide away for a week.

Jon Moss had a poor game (he’s has more than the one, to be fair, but I’ll focus on this specific example) when he refereed the 2-2 draw between Liverpool and Tottenham earlier in the season. He awarded a penalty to Tottenham despite a number of issues:
a) not knowing whether or not Dejan Lovren had touched the ball, therefore playing Harry Kane onside.
b) overruling his linesman who had flagged for the offside, despite the above.
c) illegally asking fourth official Martin Atkinson to use a TV screen to get a better view of the incident.

There was video evidence that showed Jon Moss hadn’t a clue what had actually happened, and of him asking Martin Atkinson to break the rules of officiating, and yet the Football Association took no action. They instead decided to release a statement with a fabricated version of events.

This is where I’d normally launch into a conspiracy theory about how the FA is corrupt from top to bottom, but this actually isn’t a conspiracy theory because it sounds somewhat plausible. The whole organisation is a shambles. But anyway, dismantling the FA is a conversation for another day.

This article is focusing on the atrocious level of officiating in the Premier League. There’s the ridiculous argument that ‘these things even themselves out over the course of the season’. They absolutely don’t. From a purely Liverpool point of view, incorrect decisions from officials have cost the Reds points from the first day of the season.

Watford’s equaliser was offside, Mohamed Salah should’ve had a penalty late on against Burnely, the red card against Sadio Mané drastically changes the game against Man City, a ridiculous penalty was awarded to Everton, which resulted in them equalising, Tottenham were awarded two very dubious penalties, as has already been discussed, Man United committed several fouls without punishment, including Mohamed Salah being thrown to the ground and Antonio Valencia kicking a player in the chest, not to mention as many as three penalties waved away. That’s as many as 14 points being dropped as a result of referees being incompetent. The worrying thing is, there’s still seven League games to play.

Liverpool aren’t the only side to have been victim to incompetent officials, however. Champions-in-waiting Man City have had their fair share of dodgy calls, with an early game against Everton being tainted by possible officiating mistakes and having a clear penalty on Raheem Sterling denied in a later game. Arsenal too have had a number of decisions go against them, resulting in Arsene Wenger’s ire being directed at Mike Dean.

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Bobby Madley’s performance in the Merseyside derby in the FA Cup earlier this season is surely one of the worst of the season, with Mason Holgate shoving Roberto Firmino into the stands and manhandling the referee, escaping without punishment.

Another massive issue with the officiating in the Premier League is the complete lack of consistency in decisions. For instance, Sadio Mané is still the only player to be sent off for a high boot challenge, despite three identical incidents happening over the course of the same weekend. Mané was sent off, one player was booked and the other received no punishment. In the game between Liverpool and Tottenham, Trent Alexander-Arnold was booked for a high challenge, but Ben Davies was not booked for an arguably worse challenge.

The introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) hasn’t helped. The games officiated using it have nearly all seen controversy and poor officiating. Some think that this is happening deliberately, that referees are intentionally sabotaging the introduction of VAR. Again, this should sound like a far out conspiracy theory but it doesn’t, it sounds perfectly plausible.

There’s also the slight issue that some referees literally can’t keep up with the game. Mike Dean, Jon Moss, Bobby Madley and Phil Dowd aren’t exactly in fine physical form, how can they be expected to keep up with the likes of Sadio Mané or Raheem Sterling.

Officiating in England is a serious problem. It needs to be addressed, and hopefully the introducing of VAR can be streamlined, perfected, and can help improve the officiating of the game.

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