Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Pick a Ref, Any Ref, Part 2

The selection of referees for the World Cup did surprise me initially, I must admit. But the one European referee I felt was especially unlucky to miss out, Terje Hauge of Norway, had an absolute shocker in the Barca v. Arsenal Champions’ League final.

I’ve complained in the past, too, about FIFA’s “affirmative action” policy with regard to referees; there are often a few third-world officials at the event who would have been better left at home (this was emphatically the case in 2002).

However, in Germany, the established European referees hardly covered themselves in glory. The tournament’s best official probably was the man who ended up refereeing the final, Horacio Elizondo of Argentina. The Slovakian Lubos Michel, a ref who has improved enormously in recent times, ran him a close second.

But back to the point: the general standard of officiating was unquestionably poor.

So what’s the solution?

One thing would help considerably. Namely, for FIFA’s top brass to keep their big mouths shut for the few months leading up to the tournament, and preferably during it as well.

Before each one of the last four World Cups, we have heard thundering declamations of clampdowns on this, zero-tolerance attitudes towards that, and occasionally even new regulations (or interpretations of regulations) for the referees to digest in an unmanageably short time.

Then, halfway through the tournament, the powers that be change their minds.

2006 provided a perfect case in point.

The referees had a number of missions drummed into them before the tournament, and in the blood-curdling Round of 16 game between Portugal and the Netherlands, Russian referee Valentin Ivanov appeared to be following them to the letter. Yet he was lambasted by Blatter afterwards.

What’s a ref to do, when the man in charge can’t resist putting in his two cents’ worth, and one cent contradicts the other?

It’s an impossible situation, and it’s perhaps not surprising if the officials fall below their usual standards as a result.

Expecting faultless displays from the officials is as futile as expecting such performances from the footballers. But a period of silence on the part of Blatter and his ilk during the World Cup period would be most appreciated.

Mike, I see our mate Graham Poll has got himself embroiled in another saga, this time with Chelsea.

Cantalejo and Poll in the headlines in the same week! Now all we need is Merk to make a mark.
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