Grace Under Pressure

It is very hard to keep your cool when those around you are losing theirs.  It is especially difficult when you as the referee are the recipient of the remonstrations.

But, it can be done successfully, as the referees in this montage so professionally demonstrate.

Remember: model the behavior you want the players to follow.  If you want them to calm down, you have to be calm.

My favorite is the clip featuring referee Michael Oliver.  The player is clearly upset, and Oliver allows him to have his say, all the while making his intentions clear by holding the yellow card low in his hand.  He’s allowing the player to blow off steam and enforcing the Laws of the Game with regard to dissent.  Just good, common sense refereeing.

Case Study: How To Earn A Caution Without Really Trying

The New Year always brings with it a bevy of new resolutions: a commitment to get fit, to spend more time with the family, or even, ahem, to blog more often.

Alas, like so many snowflakes, these resolutions tend to melt away when the cold winds of winter give way to the renewing sounds of spring.

If you are a soccer/football player, I’ve found one you can keep up with, and I’m calling it “How to Earn A Caution Without Really Trying”.  All you need do is follow these simple steps:

  1. Have a reputation as a hard-to-manage hothead
  2. Be on your fourth caution of the season (one away from a one match suspension)
  3. Commit a foul that, on its’ own merit, might get you booked
  4. Have a referee, whom knowing that you are on your 4th caution, decides to give you the benefit of the doubt for the late tackle and not caution you
  5. Finally – and this one’s the cruncher – run your mouth at said referee in the immediate aftermath of said leniency

There you are, one caution, done and dusted.  Oh, and don’t forget the bonus one match suspension.

Happy New Year everyone!

Case Study: Dealing Firmly With Dissent Directed at an AR

Case Study # 19-2013
Date 19 May 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal
Referee/Badge Howard Webb, FIFA
At Issue Webb deals decisively and firmly with dissent directed at an Assistant Referee

When a player displays dissent toward a referee, s/he has the ability to decide how much they are willing tolerate, and how to sanction the player, if at all.  Assistant referees, on the other hand, have no such authority.  Of course, they may give the referee information about misconduct, but it is still up to the referee to decide whether to act upon it.

It is because of these lines of authority (clearly dictated by the Laws of the Game) that referees must take extra care to “protect” assistant referees.

In this case study, Arsenal midfielder clearly fouls Newcastle United player Mathieu Debuchy.  Assistant Referee Darren Cann (himself a FIFA AR and a regular member of Webb’s international team) is literally inches away from play and signals for the foul.  Two Arsenal players, including Gibbs, immediately engage in dissent.

Had Gibbs stopped at this point, the incident likely would’ve been over.  But Gibbs – clearly aggrieved – re-engages Cann, moving off of the field of play and into Cann’s personal space.  Webb then arrives quickly with yellow card in hand, and, as he has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to do – gets into the personal space of the player, coming almost nose-to-nose with him.

I say this each time Webb does this, but it bears repeating: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.  At 6′ 4″, Webb is an imposing figure – and is a trained policeman to boot.

Gibbs retreats quickly and order is restored as Arsenal veteran Tomas Rosicky gives the young Gibbs a firm slap on the back, as if to say “settle down, son.”

Author’s note: I almost posted this in video form, but on the sixth or seventh time of watching, something caught my eye that might have been missed in the video.  You’ll know it when you see it.

Case Study: Managing Dissent

WARNING: This post contains language that could be considered offensive.

In the recent Manchester derby match, Select Group and FIFA Referee Martin Atkinson was in charge.  Early in the second half, Manchester City (blue) was flagged for offside.  Man City midfielder Samir Nasri took exception with the decision and complained about it to Referee Atkinson.

A short two minutes later, Man City were again flagged for offside, and on this occasion, Nasri approached Assistant Referee 2 to complain.  AR2 quickly recognized the dissent and instructed Nasri to stop (53:02).  When Nasri did not, Referee Atkinson intervened (hear the whistle at 53:11) and delivered a stern warning to Nasri.

Nasri did not respond well to the warning.  As you will see in the video, Nasri disrespectfully waves Atkinson away and appears to say “go away boy” (53:22).  Nasri then mocks the referee with hand gestures that simulate talking and very clearly says “shut the fuck up”.  At this point, Atkinson blows the whistle again (play was still stopped for the offside) and cautions Nasri for dissent.

Over the course of the season, we have seen Atkinson be very consistent in dealing with dissent.  He tolerates the occasional emotional outburst, but no more, and that is the case here.

That said, I am left feeling dissatisfied with the issuance of only a caution, and I am hoping some of the iTOOTR community – and especially our UK readers –  can help shed light on this.

This kind of behavior from a player is rarely, if ever, seen in American professional p And when it does happen, it is dealt with swiftly and severely.  Why is that not the case in the Premier League?  If the behavior exhibited by Nasri isn’t deserving of a dismissal, then what behavior towards a referee would be?

I am aware of and acknowledge the cultural differences between the USA and the UK; our UK cousins often think of us as a bit “puritan” with regard to matters such as foul and abusive language.  But surely, this type of behavior is beyond the pale?  Isn’t it?  As far as the youth game goes, I can’t think of a referee I know who would punish this type of outburst with only a caution.

I encourage our UK readers and our USSF State and National referees to share their insights with us.  Is this type of behavior typical?  Do referees want to punish it more severely and don’t because they fear the FA won’t back them?  Or did Referee Atkinson just get it wrong by only showing a yellow card in this case?

Case Study: shhhhh, we're using our inside voices. . .

Select Group and FIFA Referee Martin Atkinson was in charge of a recent Premier League match between Chelsea FC and West Ham United FC.  During the match, the referee dealt with a lot of dissent, particularly from Chelsea midfielder Jon Obi Mikel (#12).

Atkinson takes his usual calm and cool approach to dealing with Mikel when he pulls him aside for a chat about his behavior.

I call this case study to your attention for two reasons: first, is the calm, finger-on-lips rebuke to Mikel.  This is a classic case of trying to change behavior by modeling the behavior you want (as opposed to trying to talk over the player).  Second, Atkinson warns Mikel against further dissent, and then deals with it as promised when Mikel engages in dissent again a few minutes later.

The key learning points are:

  • Remain calm and composed when dealing with dissenting players
  • If you warn a player with the universal “no more” signal, be prepared to follow through

For the screen shots, I took some liberties with the dialog.  Hopefully you find it amusing without it detracting from the main points.

Case Study: Dealing With Dissent. Or Not, In This Case

In this space, I  strive to catch referees doing something right; there are plenty of mainstream media writers willing to write about every mistake made by the officials.  That being so, I leave the criticism to journalists so we can focus on learning something from the best referees.

However, I find myself very disappointed with a referee’s failure to deal with a clear case of dissent.  The incident occurred during a recent Everton v Liverpool derby match in the Premier League.

Very early in the match, Liverpool defender Daniel Agger* and (at that time) Everton forward Fellaini get into a tussle on a long ball forward.  This isn’t unusual in the Premier League, but, for some reason, Agger felt particularly aggrieved.

He quickly made known his displeasure with Assistant Referee #1, following an under-pressure clearance to prevent a corner kick.  After getting to his feet, he briefly looked at referee Andre Marriner, and then directed his ire towards AR1.  His protest included a point at AR1, the curse word we Americans call “the F-bomb”, as well as some others I couldn’t make out.

But he wasn’t done yet.  After play went on near AR1 for another minute or so, Agger still found an opportunity to shoot the assistant referee a clear stare of disapproval.

In the youth game, at least where I work in Georgia, this would be a straight send-off, no questions asked, and, frankly, few coaches would question it.  But for reasons that remain a mystery to me, this type of behavior is tolerated in the most-watched league in the world.

The Premier League knows full well how the behavior of players influences the youngsters.  They even produced a video acknowledging as much.  Which leads me to question: why is  clear, undeniable dissent of the kind demonstrated by Agger routinely tolerated in the Premier League?  Without even so much as a talking-to, much less a caution or send off.

To the bosses at the FA and the Professional Game Match Officials organization, I submit this humble plea: please empower referees to stop to this type of behavior.  Not doing so makes the job of the local referee much more difficult.

The Premier League can produce all of the slick videos it likes, but dealing with dissent on the pitch – in front of tens of millions of viewers worldwide – is what really matters.

*Editor’s Note: In the photos below, Daniel Agger is incorrectly identified as Martin Skrtel.