Case Study: Investing and Dividends

At 28 years old, Michael Oliver is by far the youngest referee in the Barclays Premier League, and I daresay one of the youngest to hold a FIFA badge (he earned it in 2012).  The fact that more than a few players on the pitch are older than Oliver makes his performance in the Liverpool – Tottenham fixture even more impressive.

The match was hotly contested, with a resurgent Liverpool side looking to move into contention for a European place while Tottenham were looking to secure Champions League football for next season.

Case Study # 10-2013
Date 10 March 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Liverpool 3 – 2 Spurs
Referee/Badge Michael Oliver, FIFA
At Issue The youngest referee in the BPL gives a man management masterclass


Into this match enter young Oliver, who proceeded to show us how to manage a match with minimal use of cards.  Four separate incidents tell the story.

Incident 1

In the 41st minute, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez (leading goal scorer in the BPL and with a reputation for diving) and Spurs midfielder Scott Parker got their legs tangled during a challenge.  Predictably, Suarez made a meal of it, while Parker was more than a little bemused by Suarez’ antics.  At the next stoppage in play, Oliver took the opportunity to have a chat with the dancers and their captains.  No cautions issued.

Incident 2

Just a couple of minutes later, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard came in hard on Spurs’ emerging superstar Gareth Bale for a ball in the air.  Gerrard led with his arm, and jumped inwards instead of upwards, catching Bale on the side of the head.  This was clearly a case where a caution would have been fully warranted, but Oliver again elects to keep his cards in his pocket.  I wonder if he was thinking how he was going to need Gerrard to help manage the match?  Regardless, this “investment” paid off, as we shall see.

Incident 3

In the 53rd minute, Bale made a move on Liverpool midfielder Lucas, beating him to the inside.  Lucas instinctively reached up to block Bale with his arm, inadvertently catching Bale in the face in the process.  Again, no card issued.  What is noteworthy is Gerrard’s body language during this exchange.  I think it is safe to say that the “investment” is already paying dividends.

Incident 4

In the 81st minute, Liverpool’s Suarez is again involved in extracurriculars, this time with Spurs midfielder Dembele.  The incident is comical for the most part, so much so that I couldn’t even bring myself to write snarky captions underneath the players.  Immediately after the incident, which Oliver moved quickly to dispel, the referee is seen having a quick word with Gerrard, which Gerrard acknowledges with a quick nod.  Again, dividends paid.

We must offer the usual disclaimer: this approach won’t work for everyone, in every situation; this is why refereeing is much of an art as a science.  But young Mr. Oliver certainly demonstrates that his meteoric rise through the ranks of English football is no fluke.

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