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.

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: Atkinson Shows Grace Under Fire

In a recent Premier League match between Sunderland and Newcastle United, referee Martin Atkinson typified the English style of player management: cool, calm and collected, despite circumstances that tested him.

In the 25th minute of the match, Atkinson sent off Newcastle player Cheick Tiote for violent conduct when the player went into a challenge studs up after the whistle sounded for a foul.

The send off is fairly straightforward, as we see in frames 1-6 of the gallery (click to enlarge).

In the ensuing nonsense that seems to accompany all soccer/football matches these days, Newcastle player Shola Ameobi (#23) approaches Atkinson aggressively and enters his personal space to argue against the send off of his teammate.

The intensity level was quite high, with Atkinson having just sent off a player, early, in a derby (rivalry) match. In spite of these conditions, Atkinson remains a picture of composure. He shows #23 a yellow card for dissent, and keeps the card out as a clear threat that he is willing to use it again. All without a raised voice, “away” gestures, and or even the appearance of concern.
While Atkinson’s approach may not work in every situation, it is clear that his composed demeanor helped calm the situation. As much “stick” as the referees seem to get in England, it is clear the FA and PGMO are doing something right.

Case Study: Atkinson Shows Cards Aren't Always Necessary

On 25 August 2012, Martin Atkinson was the referee in a Premier League (ENG) match between West Ham United (blue) and Swansea FC (white).

Early in the match, #4 white was attacking down the right side and lost possession of the ball to a blue defender (images 1 to 3). He subsequently fouled the defender, which was rightly called by the assistant referee and whistled by referee Atkinson. After #4 white got to his feet, he promptly kicked the ball away (image 4).

While the Laws explicitly state that this is a cautionable offense, referee Atkinson chooses not to issue a caution. That is not to say that he let the tactic go unnoticed, as seen in the last image.

A small illustration that player management doesn’t always require the use of cards.