Wenger and Guardiola on English refs -- too chatty and too focused on diving

It’s taken a while, but a top coach in England has had the nerve to criticize the Premier League’s high-minded, not to mention seriously flawed, campaign against diving.

Pep Guardiola was actually criticizing English referees for allowing too much violent tackling, when he added “maybe there is too much focus on diving and not enough on some of the tackles.”

That has long been a point made in this column: no one gets hurt in a diving incident, yet it is singled out as a crime on a par with a leg-breaking tackle. In other words, the referees who seem quite pleased to support the diving witch hunt, come over as more devoted to avoiding the horror of being themselves conned, than they are to safeguarding players from injury.

Of course it’s an utterly nonsensical situation, one that will not withstand more than a moment or two of clear thinking. But refereeing and clear thinking are not comfortable bed-fellows. There have been, and continue to be, too many examples of illogical rules and rulings to be in any doubt about that.

Guardiola goes on: “I like the physicality of the Premier League ... I know contact is more allowed here than any other country but there are limits.” Yes there are, but they are impossible to define: one coach’s violent tackle is another coach’s “hard but fair” tackle.

Of course, anyone venturing to suggest that there is too much physicality in the English game is obliged to add that he actually likes rough play -- or he will be mocked as a milk-sop. But by appearing to approve of physicality, Guardiola blunts his reference to “limits”? What limits does he mean? The only ones with any standing are those imposed by the rules, and they are hardly pinnacles of clarity. The referee is allowed considerable latitude in deciding what is careless or reckless and so on.

The English refereeing culture appears to be one left over from the 19th century, even from the very day in 1863 when the sport of “football” split into two different games -- rugby and soccer. One of the reasons for the split was that the soccer advocates wanted a game based on skill, not one based on physical power, which was what the rugby enthusiasts wanted, and got.

That pivotal decision ought to have settled the matter once and for all, but obviously not. It seems that some of the spirit of the rugby advocates still lives on in English refereeing.

Guardiola wants English referees to “protect” players more, not a bad idea, but loses his touch with reality by stating that “they don’t have to change the way they play here.” Eh? What Guardiola is seeking is the virtual disappearance of violent (as he sees it) tackling. That is, the end of “hard but fair” (as its proponents, and most English referees, see it) tackling.

To those who like rough tackling, that would amount to a huge change in “the way they play.”

Another EPL coach, the almost legendary Arsene Wenger, has been heard from on this topic. A few years back he told us: “I don't have a problem with players who go in completely 100 percent -- but the intention of the players has to be fair.”

Apparently, the same stance as Guardiola -- but would anyone doubt that in any particular incident, judgment on what is fair would depend on the color of the players’ shirts?

More recently, Wenger had the temerity to mock an almost sacrosanct feature of English refereeing: the cozy chat. How the EPL referees love to call players aside and chat with them for a few seconds, usually ending with that apparently stern arm gesture that means Enough!

This habit of verbal warnings is not acknowledged in the rule book. But on the face of things, it seems a good idea, allowing the referee to take a border-line yellow-card foul and reduce it slightly to merely a talking-to. The English like to call that “man-management” and I’d say it has its merits. In theory. In practice it usually comes over as just another way of being lenient, of not giving an offender the punishment he should get.

I have tried, for decades now, to get referees to tell me what they say in these little chats. I’ve even been promised a tape of a chat. But no ref has ever revealed anything, and no tape has ever appeared.

I’ve no doubt at all why that is: because the chats must be so utterly banal -- stupid even -- that referees are embarrassed to disclose them. A possible reason, one that would at least have some validity, would be that the referee is explaining the rules. But I regard that as unthinkable. It is not the referee’s job to tell a player what’s permitted and what isn’t. A professional is surely obliged to know the rules. If he doesn’t, that is his fault, and not one that the referee is supposed to correct.

A treasured image of this chatting comes from the Olympic final in 2012. Brazil-Mexico in London’s Wembley Stadium. The referee -- England’s Mark Clattenburg (known to me as Mark Chatterbox) -- is looking stern. In front of him we see Brazil’s Marcelo and Mexico’s Oribe Peralta, guilty of some mutual affray. Clattenburg is doing all the talking, the chat goes on for quite a while, more than 30 seconds, I’d say. As I have great doubts that either Peralta or Marcelo speaks English, or that Clattenburg speaks either Spanish or Portuguese the episode was farcical. But Clattenburg, brought up on man-management, evidently felt the baffling chat was a necessity. I doubt that either Marcelo, gazing up to the sky and grinning slyly, or the grim-faced Peralta found it much help.

Just what referees say in these chats remains, for the moment, a secret. But I think it likely that Wenger has this nicely worked out. It was back in the 1950s, he says, when the referee talked to a player, telling him “‘If you're not nice, I might punish you.’ Come on, let's not waste time ... Nothing happens. People want crisp, sharp action, and the referee has to make sure that that happens. We don't live in the dark ages."

Well, it’s not that bad, but referees -- especially the English variety -- have yet to acknowledge the full implications of this being 2018 and not 1863.

9 comments about "Wenger and Guardiola on English refs -- too chatty and too focused on diving".
  1. Ahmet Guvener, January 5, 2018 at 4:30 p.m.

    Two words to define this article: Master piece...

  2. Wooden Ships, January 5, 2018 at 6:37 p.m.

    I agree Ahmet. I will add that the English game and officiating (what’s allowed) has contributed to much of the style of play in the states. Much to my chagrin.

  3. R2 Dad, January 6, 2018 at midnight

    Agreed--all this talking-to has gone over the top. Watched Robert Madley tilt against windmills today in the FA Cup (Liverpool vs Everton). He must have been gassed from all the jaw-flapping. Such were his League One tactics he had to jump inbetween Firminho and Holgate to stop a brawl.

    Since PG is so curious what referees say on the field, here are some that come to mind from youth soccer:
    1) What are you doing? I'm standing right here. Did you think no one would notice?
    2) This isn't WWE--no arm bars allowed.
    3) Do that again and I will card you for persistent infringement.
    4) This isn't rugby--you're playing the wrong sport.
    5) (As an AR, spoken to several players coming off the field) Run! Except you 14 Red, you're special, continue walking.
    6) Coach, find something more important to complain about than line calls.
    7) Be smart--You're on a yellow--don't (fill in the blank)
    8) You cannot impede a keeper punt.
    9) You cannot impede a throw-in.
    10) You cannot impede the keeper on corner kicks.
    11) You cannot run through players! It doesn't matter how much of the ball you got! (spoken to the player right after the coach had congratulated him/her for getting stuck-in)
    12) Ask, Tell, Dismiss, Coach. I've asked you to not personalize your comments. Then I told you not to do it. If you do it again, I will have to dismiss you from this match. Since you are the lone team representative in the technical area, you will forfit the match and the parents will blame you. So let's not, OK?

    I would love to hear from professionall referees on this matter. Anyone?

  4. frank schoon, January 8, 2018 at 11:25 a.m.

    Look, I don't know a country where there isn't a soccer talk show who doesn't 'CRITICIZE' the refereeing. It is the same in Holland, as I often hear dutch commentators and coaches complain about the Dutch refs ,who as a whole have a good reputation world wide, but make calls that are too "wussie", resulting in unnecessary game stoppages for this call would NEVER have been made in England. Notice the Dutch always compare their refereeing standard to English standards, not Italian, nor French, nor Spanish nor South American. So here is a country complaining about their refs making "wussy' calls and as a result it hurts the dutch players' development, making it tougher to play international soccer. So go figure that one......
    There will always be calls that should have been made during the year that were bad calls and the instigator got away with it. I don't know what you can do about it....How 'bout suspending the REF for one game on a bad call like that, LOL. That won't happen for we're dealing here with humans not computers, and therefore I can just imagine the 'monster" we create from this action.
    When criticizing English refereeing, you need to also take into account, English culture. The English are extremely fair minded people and are respected world wide for their 'fairmindedness". For example, the English fans, before all the foreign players invaded their country, frowned upon fancy moves or make an opponent look silly, or a fancy pass, for they call it"Rubbish" me I was often at the end of those criticisms. The English didn't care for backpasses to the goalie for it has to go forwards, not backwards. The English are hardnosed,but fair and are very physical. So you have to look through the English eyes that "Diving", is beneath the English character of "fairness" although it isn't with the Germans who have a name for fake diving 'Schwalbing' which  cost the great Dutch Team of WC'74 the championship. This is why "Maradona" with the"hand of god' stunt has never been popular in England for he cheated.
    The next  time your team loses due to a "dive' ,complaining the ref should have seen or felt it, think about the difficult situation the ref finds himself.
    One of the problems I see which is a characteristic of English soccer is there are TOO MANY games resulting in too many unnecessary "INJURIES". I think that's more of a problem.

  5. R2 Dad replied, January 8, 2018 at 12:15 p.m.

    Ironically, the English have caught up in the diving department these days so that past idea of Fairness seems to have gone by the wayside. It's whatever the referee allows. I do hope the English FA is able to implement VAR the way the Germans have, with one central referee review office rather than a local referee in a room upstairs as they do in MLS.
    Frank, your injuries comment seems to be rocket science beyond the comprehension of fans, managers and players in England. There is a lower quality of play due to squad rotation to combat excessive wear and tear on players, but the real test will be come March and April. Without the 3 weeks rest other leagues get in December/Jan, the English players will face greater frequency of injury before and during the world cup in June. Oh well, I guess the English don't mind handicapping themselves--it's only the world cup.

  6. frank schoon replied, January 8, 2018 at 12:36 p.m.

    R2, much of what you say is true...Yes, things have changed somewhat in English as far as culture but still there is  a 'fairness' dna and, true, there are players that abuse the situation. Remember  how Henri got his team France into the WC with an obvious handball pushing it into the Irish goal...Stuff like that just gets me. As a coach I have never and wil never tell my players to grab jerseys or opponent. As a matter of fact I tell that I never want to see it...If you get beat fair and square than learn from it, is the way I see it

  7. frank schoon replied, January 8, 2018 at 12:36 p.m.

    R2, much of what you say is true...Yes, things have changed somewhat in English as far as culture but still there is  a 'fairness' dna and, true, there are players that abuse the situation. Remember  how Henri got his team France into the WC with an obvious handball pushing it into the Irish goal...Stuff like that just gets me. As a coach I have never and wil never tell my players to grab jerseys or opponent. As a matter of fact I tell that I never want to see it...If you get beat fair and square than learn from it, is the way I see it

  8. Kent James, January 13, 2018 at 12:17 p.m.

    The reason diving is more offensive than most run of the mill fouls is that it is conscious decision to cheat (unless a player does it so often that it is a subconscious decision). It is like a shirt pull or the last defender taking down an attacker going to goal.  Diving, in and of itself is not dangerous, but by making referees hesitant to call fouls, diving makes the game more dangerous.

    As for the ref chats, if the chat is instead of a clear yellow card, it is bad refereeing; I reffed for many years and one of our most experienced referees would talk to the player for the first yellow card, which I think is the worst thing that can happen, since it basically says to other players, this player committed a yellow card offense, but did not get a card, so that sort of offense will be allowed.  In Western PA, his attitude was not unique (many refs take inordinate pride in not giving cards;  no paperwork...).

    On the other hand, when a player commits a borderline foul, a chat might be appropriate.  I've said "look, that was a borderline yellow; I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt this time, but anything else that remotely resembles a yellow card foul and you'll be getting a card".  And talking to players lets everyone else know that this was a bit worse than your average foul, so the level of review is elevated.  But talking doesn't work; I once had a college women's game where the teams were horribly mismatched (a first round playoff game), and the weaker team had one good player.  She was getting frustrated, working hard but with no help and no success.  In her frustration, she took a player down from behind (not violently, but clearly intentionally).  In a normal game, I would have ejected her.  But in this game, her team was already down 7 or 8-0 (I was a little annoyed that the coach of the strong team wasn't backing off, though I think she was trying to show the league that the game shouldn't have been played...), so I thought I'd give her a break.  But she did the same thing about 10 or 15 mins later so I was forced to eject her.   But I agree, if the talking should not be a substitute for clear yellow card infractions.  

  9. frank schoon replied, January 13, 2018 at 2:21 p.m.

    KENT, I agree and what you did on the first foul on the girl ,I can understand it, but the parents of the girl who got fouled is probably talking right now about that idiot ref not having called that foul form behind and questioning your ability...LOL... You see it is not that easy when judging refs. I always tell my kids to not criticize the ref, for they make 10X many more mistakes than the ref during the game......

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