Will the spending madness by which Chinese teams are swallowing up talented players one day spread to referees?
One of the top FIFA referees, Mark Clattenburg, apparently thinks so. Or maybe he’s bargaining for a blockbuster move, as unlikely as it seems, since there is no longer a retirement age for FIFA referees.
In 2014, FIFA rescinded a rule that enforced officials to retire as international referees at 45. Clattenburg, 41, pulled off a remarkable treble in 2016 by running the center for three prestigious finals, those of the European Championship, UEFA Champions League, and FA Cup. Clatternburg has been on the FIFA list since 2006. The crowning achievement of his career would be the 2018 World Cup final, or perhaps 2022. After that, who knows?
“China are certainly looking to develop their football, looking at their signings and their recruitment,” Clattenburg told the Associated Press. “If an opportunity came along -- I am contracted to the Premier League -- but I have to look at my long-term strategy of my career. How long can I last as a referee? I have been in the Premier League 12 years. It’s been a wonderful 12 years. There is no offer on the table but if they made an offer it would be under consideration. But at the moment I still enjoy working for the Premier League and UEFA.”
There’s been zero indication that the massive sums spent by Chinese Super League teams for players such as Oscar of Brazil and Carlos Tevez of Argentina, not to mention renowned managers such as Marcello Lippi and Luiz Felipe Scolari, means that referees can base their retirement plans on a big payday in China. However, the Daily Mirror reported Chinese soccer officials want to address issues of corruption and match-fixing as well as raise the standards of officiating by luring top referees from around the world. For nearly two decades scandals have plagued Chinese efforts to sign talented players and upgrade its league.
Chinese teams have again alarmed foreign rivals by offering crazy transfer fees and staggering salaries, yet are battling suspicions that the cases of disgruntled players leaving in protest of unpaid wages will continue. MLS was able to snag Didier Drogba a year and a half ago following a pay dispute in China that drove him to Turkish club Galatasaray, back to Chelsea, and then to Montreal.
The recent case of Shanghai SIPG outbidding Atlanta United for Paraguayan midfielder Oscar Romero may turn out to be an isolated incident, or it may be confirmation that teams are looking for players in many price ranges and not just the superstars. Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly declined a deal with a Chinese team that would cost it 300 million pounds ($375 million) and pay him a salary one-third of that sum.
Getting back to the referees, the Clattenburg connection is not of his concocting. He gave a rare interview after receiving a Referee of the Year award at a Globe Soccer Awards ceremony in Dubai, and expressed a willingness to help China upgrade its soccer. “Money has never been a driver as a referee … it’s about the drive of doing something different, maybe helping the recruitment,” Clattenburg said.
He cited the case of a colleague and compatriot, Howard Webb, who officiated the 2010 World Cup final and has since taken up a post in Saudi Arabia.
“If it didn’t happen now I will be looking in the future at that, a bit like Howard Webb has done where you are helping another country develop refereeing,” said Clattenburg. “It’s important to have the right quality of referee to go with the level of football. China is going to become a huge player in years to come … If they want to be serious about their league they are going to have to have the right setup. Refereeing is a huge part of football.”