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The ''Golden Solution'' is for the Premier League and FA to care about officiating

Friday 5th January 2018

A harsh call cost Arsene Wenger three points against cellar dwellers West Brom the other day. He ranted. He raved. It's Round & It's White colleague Michael Jones offered support. I have no sympathy for the Frenchman.

Michael considered Wenger's idea for a tiered rating system for refs a good idea. It may sound better than the tiered system that already exists.

It isn't.

There is one simple reason why. It is the same reason England's top two referees took early retirement then left the country. No one cares about referees. No one respects the immense task they are asked to do almost entirely without support. 

Not even former referees. Read Keith Hackett's column in the Telegraph. The man lives up to his name. He hacks away at brothers-in-arms attempting to do their jobs under a microscope. In his day one or two matches per week were televised. There was no high resolution super slo-mo replay. No Youtube. He could have mailed it in and the larger world wouldn't have a clue. He very well may have, considering the respect he has for peers.

I won't argue whether Mike Dean can be pompous and condescending on the pitch. Jose Mourinho manages my club. 

I'm also a baseball fan. I remember when the umpires in that sport became a bit too big for their britches, impossible as that seemed for some. When Major League Baseball suggested a system of accountability, the umps resigned en mass. Calling their bluff, baseball accepted the resignations, then after enough time had passed, picked and chose from the most competent among the chastened men in blue.

Eric Gregg was one of the umpires who was not rehired. He had a physique that made Phil Dowd look like Mo Farah. Worse, his strike zone was notoriously wider than his waistline. Nevertheless, he was surprisingly popular with fans. He passed in 2006 due to heart complications.

The argument isn't that referees shouldn't be as competent as possible. They should. But that can't be accomplished without support. Major League Baseball uses an intricate camera system to monitor ball and strike calls. It employs VAR to make sure safe and out calls, fair or foul, home run or fan interference, etc, are made correctly. Football is dragging its feet on VAR. As Wenger suggested, the best umpires are promoted to the big leagues; the worst demoted; the elite assigned to the playoffs and World Series. As Michael added, the data is also made public. More importantly, there is behind-the-scenes support from Spring Training through the final game of the Series, then into the off-season.

Major League Baseball's goal is not to identify the best umpires, however. It's to cultivate more. In a football league with just 20 teams, there should be no need to worry about which official is in charge in the most critical matches. You should have more than ten who can do the job with their eyes closed.

Okay, poor choice of words, but you get the idea. If Manchester City, United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Arsenal can all have international class players in reserve, why can't the Premier league have more excellent referees than it knows what to do with? That would only improve the quality of play in the Championship, and every other tier.

Ultimately, reaching that level of competence and integrity requires investment. The Premier League hasn't demonstrated interest in making such an investment. It prefers to shield referees from criticism with fines. That is lip-service-for-profit offered in the interest of public image rather than quality and integrity. Otherwise Webb and Clattenburg would still be involved in the English game.

In the lower tiers and grassroots it's even worse. As I wrote in March, England is starving for match officials. Is it any surprise? Who would want the abuse?

This is why I have no sympathy for Wenger. The Frenchman is among the most knowledgeable, involved managers when it comes to league-wide affairs. He surely knows the situation, yet he attacked the officials rather than their lack of support. As any umpire will tell you, it's the easy out. 

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.


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