Events in recent weeks in European football have raised the lingering question regarding the aptitude of referees for officiating in the more high profile matches. In Bundesliga at Hoffenheim, there was the so-called ‘ghost goal’ and in the Premier League more recently, two match results were partially influenced by contentious decisions by the officials. Although, referees are now professional and are required to meet set standards before being considered suitable for purpose, it could be argued that there are insufficient streetwise ex-footballers employed in the role.
For example, the immediate reaction of Bayer Leverkusen’s Stefan Kiessling to his attempt at goal against Hoffenheim was a clear indication that he had missed the target, yet the referee deemed that with the ball implanted in the net, it must have been a goal. Footballers know when they have scored and some discretion should have been used by the referee in investigating the curious set of circumstances.
Similarly, when Tottenham played Hull in the Premier League, Tigers defender Ahmed Elmohamady attempted to block a cross from Spurs full back Jan Vertonghen, with 10 minutes remaining. He turned sideways and used his left leg to prevent the ball from reaching the intended target. The fact that the ball rebounded from his leg and hit his hand next to his chest is incidental as it was a well-timed block by an experienced defender. Would not an ex-professional footballer acting as an official have realised this action.
There was also the case in the Tyne and Wear derby match when Steven Fletcher was awarded a free-kick near the touchline after being adjudged to have been fouled by Cheick Tiote. It would have been a throw-in to Newcastle but Fetcher may have used an old trick to fall in a way that suggested otherwise. Sunderland took advantage of the confusion and scored without another Newcastle player touching the ball.
This is not an implied criticism of referees whose job is becoming increasingly difficult, but a suggestion that many employed today have not become versed in the technicalities of playing football and the natural reactions of the players involved. For Example, Tyne and Wear derby referee Lee Probert began officiating in his teens but has no experience of playing football in any of the top English leagues to balance his judgement.
Perhaps, officials do tend to decipher situations from their angle rather than stepping into the shoes of the footballers and viewing action from their perspective.
It is just a pity that more retired top flight footballers are not encouraged to extend their careers into refereeing as their experience would be invaluable in today’s fast moving game.