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RefsWhy has the standard of Premier League referee’s been so poor?

While watching the Classico recently, I couldn’t help but pay extra attention to the referee’s performance. Though the Barcelona v Real Madrid match wasn’t its usual high quality football, it was still typically action-packed with high tension and high drama throughout. It also saw the ref brandish 11 yellow cards.

With a collection of that many cards it would suggest it was a dirty game, possibly the ref had lost control and went card happy. But on the contrary, it was nothing of the sort. I thought the ref and his two assistants had a great game and got probably every decision, definitely every important or game changing decision correct. It was really refreshing to see in such a high pressured game.

League logo'sI have watched a fair bit of Spanish games this season, a decent amount of Italian games, as well as a few German and French games.

Obviously not as much as Premier League games. So my opinion may be a bit lop sided but I have become increasingly alarmed by the standard and quite frankly, poor quality of referring in England, compared to other European leagues.

I am not saying ref’s in these other European Leagues do not make mistakes. End of the day, they are human and with any human, mistakes will be made. But ironically on the same day where the ref in the Barca v Madrid game was raising the standards, a ref in England sent off the wrong player due to mistaken identity. This is the second time this has happened in England this season.

That’s a crazy thing to consider. It does happen, but very rarely do players get sent off for mistaken identity in football, let alone for it to happen twice, in one season, in the same league. This is the state of English referee’s at the moment. This is not to mention the numerous and continuous bad calls and blatant lack of spotting things on the pitch. This is including the referee’s assistants and we are only talking about game changing decisions.

Football technologyIt seems that every weekend the biggest talking points seems to be what a referee has done or has failed to do or see.

I understand that the game is getting quicker and bringing in technology is a must. (that is Fifa or FA rant for another day) But at this moment in time, it’s still the same for ref’s in other European leagues and they seem to be getting by with no way near as much controversy each week.

After all, England still boasts the only ref to have taken charge of a World Cup final and Champions League final in Howard Webb. I am not saying Webb was the greatest of ref’s, he’s definitely not on par with the likes of Pierluigi Collina but still, how has the standards dropped so severely?

I do have one suggestion. The massive statue of the Premier League is ever-growing. The English league is widely known as the most watched league in the world.

With that comes massive media attention, astronomical wage bills, huge household names and even bigger stars. They’re basically football Gods. Ref’s are way down the pecking order in those lists and again are only human.

Red and YellowsNow I am not suggesting ref’s have ego’s and make deliberate mistakes to be talked about by all and sundry. But in English football it seems accountability is mostly reserved for football managers  only.

On top of that, footballers and even ref’s now are untouchable to football fans and often the media.

I remember watching an old Italian documentary about Serie A ultras over 10 years ago now. There was an issue with Lazio fans, the team were doing poorly and the fans started to protest on the terraces, saying many of the players were playing for money rather than the shirt.

This went on for weeks, often they would evacuate the terraces for 20 minutes at a time and if Lazio scored, the ultras would demand no fans cheer. It got so out of hand the Lazio captain at the time, Alessandro Nesta who was also a full Italian international, had to call in a few of the leading ultras to have a meeting with the Lazio squad to sort it out.

Something like this would be unheard of in England. Don t get me wrong, I am not suggesting this is the way forward or the right way to go about things but at least the Lazio stars were not untouchable to the fans. There was a clear accountability and however unconventional, there was an organised, reachable connection to the people of the city.

CollinaI may have digressed but is it a coincidence that the widely regarded greatest ever referee came from Italy?

Obviously, other leagues have their massive stars who fans hold extremely high, or even see as footballing Gods. But the Premier League is in serious danger of creating a brand that is slowly becoming disconnected to the fans it was ultimately created for, and to entertain.

Naturally that disconnect will start to filter right through the brand and out to the even the smallest people of that brand, i.e. the ref’s.

I know this is a crazy theory but when you are constantly dealing with or working alongside stars who are regarded as Gods to the masses. Eventually you will take on that persona and feel as untouchable.

Think about it. How often do you see a ref come on TV and explain their actions or explain the reason why they made the decision they did, or even apologies? You may see it once in a while but not in proportion to the amount of times their game changing, poor decisions are being talked bout by pundits and fans.

ref codes.This is where the accountability comes in. It seems now even ref’s are untouchable. Forget football, in life in general….

If you are in a position where you do not have to take responsibility for your actions, or you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your mistakes. You will never take the necessary steps to limit those mistakes or improve your actions/decisions.

This is why in the highly pressurised but highly protected position of a Premier League referee. Though your name may be cursed or your performance might be scrutinised on TV or the terraces, you rarely are the main recipient of your bad decisions. There is always another game next week and you rarely have time to take responsibility for your own bad actions.

So with that being said. Sadly, the standard of referring will continue to drop and I highly doubt we will see an improvement. Until video technology is brought into the game in England, and at least 50% of the decisions have been taken out of the ref’s hands.