Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Man In The Middle – The Referee

Despite all the expectations, preparations, and organization, a team’s future in the tournament can come down to a split second decision (or lack thereof) from the man with the whistle – the referee. In the 2006 World Cup we saw an appallingly uneven referee performance, where many of the officials were determined to steal the show and put themselves in the center of attention. In this tournament, the standard has been surprisingly even and high in my opinion. Of course there have been mistakes, and also a couple of very controversial decisions that have been discussed among friends, fans, and in TV studios around the world.

If you study the official laws of football, you will find that they are in fact not very elaborate. The much debated goal that Ruud van Nistelrooy scored against Italy is a great example. The official offside law states:

A player is in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.

Furthermore it states that:

A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by interfering with play.

Hence, the rule mentions the opponents’ goal line, but there is no reference to how to treat things that happen behind this line. As it also states, it’s all in the opinion of the referee who is actively involved in the play.

I am personally far from convinced that the Swedish referee and the linesman were as confident as they appear to be when they allowed this goal. It is obviously their job to know not only the ins and outs of the laws of the game, but also the various interpretations and directives that are applied to the tournament in question. There is no player in top international football that knows how to take advantage of the offside rule better than Ruud van Nistelrooy. Seeing his reaction after the goal, where he had to await the thumbs up from the officials, suggested that he did not know that Panucci was considered taking an active part of the game, even though he was knocked out behind his own goal line. The debate has been very interesting, and I think many people (like myself) learned something new about the game. The case is very specific though, and I doubt we will see many similar situations like this in the future.

Another controversial referee decision was the overtime penalty rewarded Austria in the game against Poland. In my opinion, the penalty was crystal clear. The defender pulled the opponent’s shirt, the Austrian guy lost his balance and fell as a result of this. Good call. The controversy was not so much about the foul itself, but rather the timing. Calling a penalty in the 92nd minute in a tight game is a bold decision, and the referee received his share of criticism. Alan Shearer suggested in the BBC studio that if officials were to point to the penalty spot every time a shirt was pulled in the penalty box, there would be 5 – 6 penalties in every game. Probably correct for the first few months. But, here’s a thought: what if the players of a team would say “Hey, let’s not pull any shirts this game and see what happens. We’ll probably be rewarded 3 penalties, but will have none against us.” The players would adapt. I’m not a fool though. I know that if a team would be too heavily penalized for one certain thing, they would drop that thing and try different tricks instead. Instead of shirt pulling maybe we would see spitting, kicking, trash talking, or biting to throw the opponent off balance. If my team had a penalty against them in injury time, I must admit I would probably drop a few comments about the officiating. But unlike the Polish minister who allegedly wanted to seriously hurt the referee after the game, I would realize that it would be a result of the human factor in the game. Instead of directing all the anger towards the referee, maybe some of the blame should be on the defender who committed a foul a few meters away from the referee.

One directive the UEFA have given for the Euro2008 tournament, is to penalize complaints and arguing with the referee. Also situations where a group of players come with their possy and attack the referee as a gang, trying to influence the decision. Players are not stupid; they know that the referee will not go back on his decision. By complaining though, they hope to instill some insecurity with the officials, and thereby having the next doubtful call being made to their advantage. I think that it’s about time this is penalized. How many times have we not seen for example the worst storm trooper of them all, Michael Ballack, in the referee’s face after every single call against his team? A brilliant player, but not a great role model for his fans. If he and all others with the same behavior all of a sudden were disciplined when trying to influence the game by putting pressure on the referee, maybe we would see more players influence the game by actually playing better football.

Regardless of how much directives players and officials are given, how many cautions and penalties are given, and how much support is given from the highest instances for the referees; as long as football games are being decided by human beings, the decisions will be debated. Sometimes a call goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a call is made, sometimes not. Sometimes the call is correct, other times not. Although it may sting the instance it happens, over the course of time it will even out. It’s part of the game.


Christian Celind

Christian started scribbling at a young age, and the words kept coming. He has tons of travel observations, football (soccer) articles and match reports, and academic essays under his belt.



Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
14 years ago

I dissagree with the comment on Poland vs Austria. I fail to understand, if your reasoning is what I base my opinion on, why no other penalties were given during the whole game for 1 in every corner situation and two any other incoming free kick. Check the tape and please tell me 1 out this game or of any of the games in the whole Euro event, that there was no shirt pulling pushing or simmilar acts, I will then gladly accept your call.

Live Scores


Betting Guide Advertisement


Become a Writer
More More
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x