July 14, 2016

EURO 2016 Refereeing Review: Team No. 25 as the probably best team of the tournament

Mark Clattenburg's final whistle after 120 minutes in last Sunday's final between hosts France and surprising champions Portugal put an end to EURO 2016. Considering the technical and tactical rather low quality of football that was brought onto the turf by the 24 nations, the tournament's best team most likely were Team No. 25 - the referees. What went well and what could have been done better in France.

What went well

Everything under full control

One of the most decisive tasks referee officers have to accomplish is ensuring that their match officials are keeping the spectacle under control. 24 nations, 51 matches, almost 5000 minutes of football - and indeed, almost every match was under the referees' full control.

One of very few confrontations


With very few exceptions like the first half of Czech Rep. vs Turkey and some parts of Italy vs Spain, there were no blatantly unfair or overheated matches - there was no real mass confrontation. In a tournament that, among others, featured two British derbies, that's remarkable.

Prevention 

A core reason for that was the referee team's prevention in terms of their disciplinary control and approach. They appropriately used their personality to keep the players calm and had mostly chocked off potential conflicts before they had a chance to develop. Of course, black-and-white-thinking does not help - there were some exceptions. Matches like Czech Rep. vs Turkey, Wales vs Slovakia or Ukraine vs Poland were clearly negative examples with hardly any visible preventive refereeing - and it partly created foreseeable results. But this does not count for the large majority of the matches. The overall satisfying result: hardly any serious injury, no clear case of serious foul play.

Preparation

Most officials seemed to be extremely well prepared during their games. They seemed to know the players, how they would behave and react - a good sign for the match preparation with the aid of match analysts are referees like Cüneyt Çakır or Björn Kuipers who did not really show the style and approach we are used to see in their games in Portugal vs Iceland and Germany vs Poland. Generally, there have been many small details (it would take too long to name them all) that have proven that the referees knew which matches and player types they are officiating.

Not only the referees prepared, no, also the assistant referees. They took most decisions correctly - there was only a limited number of perception errors. The intense preparation being a part of a scientifically based online tool for assistant referees surely contributed to that.

And even the players were prepared: As UEFA's refereeing officers met all teams before the competition and by informing them about the Laws of the Game and the expected interpretation of offences like handball, the players showed less dissent and more acceptance than usual.

Mentally ready...

I have seen - with one exception - no official whose behavior and body language did not convey a very focussed image. Even in matches that lasted 120 minutes, they made a very confident, concentrated and serious impression. Just watch the Copa America 2016 final and you'll see that this is not self-evident.

...and physically even readier

In the past, I have often criticized that aspects like athleticism and physical readiness played a too big role in UEFA's refereeing department and organization. While mental and psychological aspects still deserve a bit more attention from my perspective, the fitness level displayed by the match officials has simply been awesome. Even in matches with extra time and penalty shoot-out, they looked as if they had just started to warm up - e.g. Kassai in Germany vs Italy. According to a twitter user (Gayle Hope), Mark Clattenburg e.g. sprinted almost 4 kilometres (>14 km/h) in the final... I don't know whether there is any player with higher values.

Assistant Referees

Despite some smaller problems with regard to correctly interpreting "challenging an opponent for the ball", the assistant referees have done a good job. Hardly any crucial mistake was made by them. The percentage of correct offside decisions has, according to Collina, increased at this tournament compared to previous editions.

Deliberate Handball Interpretation

Taking these factors aside and turning towards the Laws of the Game, one thing has been very positive in my view - and this is how handballs were classified at the tournament. There is still no clear rule and the guidelines existing within FIFA and UEFA are partly contradictory and maybe even against the spirit of football (many people say so at least).

If you raise your arms like that, making contact with the ball is mostly undeliberate

Thus, it is even more surprising (perhaps it's not that surprising considering the tons of video clips seen by the officials before the competition) that handball has been one of the most consistently judged offences or non-offences at this EURO.
There have been clear criteria for deliberate handballs (unnaturally raised arms, see Czech Rep. vs Croatia, Germany vs Italy, Germany vs France) and undeliberate handballs (naturally outstretched arms, short distance, no visual contact to the ball etc., see England vs Wales or France vs Iceland).

Appointment Policy

Pierluigi Collina, Marc Batta and Hugh Dallas have made a very good job. Not only with regard to preparing and training their referees, but also with regard to the refereeing selection during the tournament. The appointments made sense - the referees' level, quality and experience suited to the games they were in charge of. With small exceptions, the match officials got what they deserved. The best referees were appointed for the best matches - and it is surely a sign of success that four or five referees would have thoroughly deserved to officiate the final. The circumstance that many officials would have even deserved more like Viktor Kassai, Björn Kuipers or Milorad Mažić only shows the high performance density at this EURO. As said, there were small exceptions - most of them concerned the selection before the tournament though.

Old stars have risen again

Viktor Kassai and Damir Skomina have both experienced a low some years ago. Both disappeared from the radar and from UEFA's top officials back in 2014, Kassai even much earlier in 2012. Collina and co. have developed a new trust in their abilities and probably psyched them up. The result: Both refereed seven matches taken together and belong to the strongest referees of the entire tournament.

The Big Picture

Most referees and refereeing as a whole have been the winners of the tournament. Maybe Team No. 25 were even the best team of the entire tournament. No match was really decided by a refereeing error. The deserved, poor image referees had in the media following the 2014 World Cup surely also reached the grassroot level back then. That's why it is for sure that all referees can be grateful for the job done in France: They have boosted our image in the public and provide us with the necessary energetical fundament with regard to the probably challenging mission to apply the new Laws of the Game in the next months (by the way, no problems with regard to that at this tournament, this gives us some hope!). Those days, you don't have to hide and can proudly reveal yourself being a referee without facing too negative consequences ;) Refereeing as a whole strongly needed that.


What could have been done better

Political Appointments

As usual, there have been some political appointments that are basically harming football and refereeing. This depends on your individual interpretation though. Although Clément Turpin did well in his second game, his first match clearly showed why he should not have been there. Same goes for Norway's Svein Oddvar Moen, who confirmed the important weaknesses that already cropped up in the last 2-3 years in his Champions League and Europa League matches (if inexperienced bloggers always find these points to improve, UEFA could have done that, too). It is also not understandable why Spain's Carlos Velasco Carballo got appointed for a third game following two rather weak performances compared to his colleagues. Maybe politics played a role, most likely UEFA did not want to let him retire being sent home after group stage. And maybe it was even planned before the tournament that the six rather inexperienced referee teams are sent home with the very experienced Spanish team staying for sure. Well, whatever it might have been: The performance principle has marginally suffered from that. The big image nonetheless was: Performance has been rewarded.

Advantage Rule

This point only concerns some referees, but nonetheless the big image of the advantages applied in the 51 matches were rather a negative one. UEFA's refereeing officers should sharpen the referees' understanding and interpretation of the difference between game advantage (i.e. there is a clear team benefit) and ball advantage (the non-offending team stays in ball possession, but has no real advantage). In some situations, quite interesting and surely incorrect advantages were played by the referees - what went well is a new hand gesture for signalling advantage though: It seems as if UEFA highlighted the difference between stretching out one hand (advantage!) and two flat, outstretched arms to signalize (advantage and free space!). Videos will clarify that in the coming weeks.

Consistent Holding-Pushing-Approach in the penalty area

There were very brave and correct penalty decisions in terms of that. Others were maybe a bit soft. And some no-calls were simply wrong, others in line with game-feeling and common sense. What I have missed is a clear and predictable line for holding and pushing in the penalty area. The bandwidth from "a push is a push" (see Germany vs Slovakia) to "even stonewall pushes or holdings are not enough for a penalty" (see Poland vs Portugal) was simply too large.

Simulation

Maybe Viktor Kassai cautioned an Italian player for simulation - if not, then there was not even one card for simulation at this EURO if I am not mistaken. There should have been more for sure.

Seeking a descend-causing contact with the (right) foot indicates simulation

Some referees were deceived by partly poor dives, others identified cases of simulation but did not punish them (and just waved play-on). This is partly acceptable depending on the match context and location on the field of play. I would have wished clearer statements that could have reached the grassroot-level effectively.

Violent Conducts

There have been some cases where clear violent conducts were not sanctioned as such. In many cases, the referees definitely saw the offences though (most striking: Italy vs Spain). This is no new problem and, even more important, none that is limited to this EURO tournament. The same happened during the opener game of this year's Under-19 EURO.

It would be very much appreciated if match officials fulfill their duties to protect the game and players and take violent conduct out of the game with all necessary means. Sometimes, I have the impression that top-flight referees shy away from sending players off for violent conduct - maybe because they feel that it is not wanted by UEFA, the players or the fans which are often summarized as the so-called "football community".
I guess the players and fans would definitely appreciate a consistent and stern punishment of violent conduct - and for UEFA, the same should count.

Illegal Use of Arm

Elbows look much more clear in replays than they do on the field of play. Therefore, it is no surprise that not all decisions were taken correctly in this sector. But as elbows - like stud-tackles - seem to become a part of some players' typical jumping movements, they have to be taken out of the game.
Team No. 25 only partly succeeded in that - many clear elbows resulting in bleeding wounds were completely missed or not sanctioned appropriately.


Stud-Tackles

In my view, this will be the biggest task for UEFA's refereeing department, but also all national associations. My personal feeling is that the frequency and intensity of as well as the intention behind tackles executed with studs shown (often paired with stretched feet) have dramatically increased (e.g. see below).


Unfortunately, there has been a real mass of reckless stud-tackles that did not result in a yellow card at this tournament. The principle of protecting the players demands that all referees and referee departments pay their undivided attention to this dangerous type of infringement.


Overall

Considering all these aspects, some conclusions should be drawn. From a pragmatic perspective, the level of refereeing at EURO 2016 has been good on average. Not more, not less. Far away from being poor - even though some performances were indeed not good enough - but also not as excellent as the black-and-white-thinking media suggests. Most journalists and the public as a whole tend to classify referees into brilliant and poor. The truth most likely lies in the middle: From a Laws-of-the-Game-perspective, there were rooms for improvement. Considering the big picture, refereeing was really good. And probably this was also mirrored by Clattenburg's not faultless, but overall OK final performance.

All in all, UEFA and their officials have to be praised for forming the maybe best team of the tournament.

Thank you, dear readers, for following our analyses and discussions closely during the tournament. It has been a pleasure.

12 Comments:

  1. Niclas, I have previously urged that we should focus more on the big picture aspects and on analysis for the purpose of improvements for the future. You have now done a fantastic job precisely along those lines! Moreover, I agree fully with your overview, showing that prevention, personality and mental readiness were among the obvious strong point. (This also reminds me that in your pre-EURO graph it was interesting to note that most of the very best referees can be found in the quadrant where match/game management is emphasized over LOTG focus). But I also agree with your key points regarding aspects to improve, such as use of arms, studs tackling, and pushing/holding in the penalty area. When one combines the latter point with the ongoing debate about what constitutes handball, it seems that the impact of penalty kicks for LOTG violations that have little to do with preventing a scoring chance is what gives the referees the biggest headache, and therefore should cause FIFA and UEFA to do some rethinking. Thank you again!

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  2. Wow I think the Irish and Welsh might have something to say about the phrase "English derbies"...

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  3. O.T:
    I red on the following AFC referee web site: http://www.the-afc.com/afc-referees-department about a FIFA referee course just started in kuala Lumpur including top AFC referees and perspective referees for FIFA WC 2018. Do someone know the name of the 18 attendees ? Can you publish them ?

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  4. Hi Niclas!! Firstly huge congratulations on your and Chefren's superb work during the Euro 2016 and particularly for this wonderful and informative overall analysis... I had a question for Niclas... You were saying that Skomina and Kassai were once in 2014 not among top UEFA referees... Can you please let me know who are the top group of referees for the UEFA at this moment for the upcoming Champions League and Europa League seasons? Would be nice if you can enlighten me a bit on this!!! Thanks in advance!! 😃

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  5. Thanks for the feedback. Your thanks make us pleased, but they should also go to the rest of our team.

    @ Mr Paramount ;): I agree with everything you said at the end, there should be more clarity in that. It would be no problem if there had been consistency in the tournament. If everybody waves holding or pushing off the ball away, ok, then it is predictable. But different interpretations in comparable situations are a problem.

    @ Unknown: Mistakes can happen, thanks for the remark.

    @ f: No, I don't know the names.

    @ Soham: Thanks, this is difficult to answer. Take a look at those who reached the KO phase in France and you have a good first clue. But there can always be surprises, new names and of course there will be some referees who might reach the very top in not too many years, e.g. Mateu Lahoz, Soares Dias, Taylor, Zwayer...will be interesting to see how they'll establish in UEFA's top refereeing.

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  6. I would probably count Clattenburg, Rizzoli, Eriksson, Kuipers and Kassai among all... Probably because 1st 3 received Finals and SF and Kassai was saved for Germany v Spain/Italy QF and Kuipers was saved for what was expected to be a QF between France and England... So I suppose these 5 must be the best 5 at this moment... Skomina and Brych following closely behind... I think Cüneyt Çakır has done his reputation some harm in this Euro, particularly in the Spain v Italy game so will be interesting to find out Çakır's appointments in the Champions League!!!

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