Column: Madness shouldn’t be required of referees

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“Those games, the referee, clearly _ and I’ve been there _ is under immense pressure,” Barber noted.

Overall, Clattenburg did well. Showing a second yellow card to Fernando Torres, sending him off, for diving was questionable, because it was clear from video replays that United’s Jonny Evans touched the Chelsea striker before he flopped down too easily.

Still, soccer can’t have it both ways. Fans, managers and administrators say they are sick of players diving. They look to referees to lay down the law. Given how hard it can be to tell a dive from a genuine fall, these are invariably tough calls.

There’s since been scrutiny of Clattenburg’s style, more chatty with players than strict disciplinarian. But, as Barber noted, “referees aren’t all clones, they do it in their own way. As long as it works, there’s not a right and there’s not a wrong way.”

If Clattenburg hadn’t sent off Torres and Branislav Ivanovic, and if Chelsea hadn’t lost 3-2 to a clearly offside winner by United’s Javier Hernandez, would Chelsea have subsequently complained about the referee to the FA? That’s an interesting hypothetical question. The club alleged the referee directed “inappropriate language” at Mikel, the Nigeria international shown a yellow card by Clattenburg, apparently for talking back at him.

Clattenburg hasn’t responded publicly to the allegations. The national secretary of the referees’ union, Alan Leighton, said in an interview it wouldn’t help Clattenburg’s defense to talk now.

“I want Mark to have the best opportunity to present his case and the best way of doing that is by presenting it to the proper authority, not to have it rehearsed in the press,” he said by phone.

If Clattenburg is found to have used racially abusive language, then it’s hard to imagine a rosy future at the top of the game for the 37-year-old candidate to officiate at the 2014 World Cup.

“If that is proven, and it comes from a referee, I think potentially that’s the end of his career,” Barber said. “You cannot have somebody who’s out there in an authoritative position saying that.”

But what if Clattenburg said nothing abusive? What if this was just crossed wires in a noisy stadium between players from abroad and a referee who speaks in a broad northern English accent?

Well, again, there’ll be those questions: Why would anyone volunteer to put themselves through such ordeals? Who, in their right mind, would be a referee?


John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at) or follow him at

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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