December 19, 2016

Referee Advent Calendar - Door 19: Refereeing Trends for 2017

2016 is widely lying behind us - a year which brought immense changes in terms of refereeing. After the hugest revision of the Laws of the Game ever as well as the introduction of Video Assistant Refereeing, it will be interesting to see what trends will dominate 2017 with regard to officiating. A prediction of emerging trends, microtrends, macrotrends and megatrends.

Past year's trend: Laws of the Game revision

Much has been changed by the IFAB in 2016. And not everything has reached the field of play both on amateur and professional levels so far. In 2017, the Laws of the Game changes and their impact on the game will be surely analyzed by the responsible bodies. More education is needed to cement the referees' knowledge and interpretation of the new Laws of the Game.

More public examples in the highest leagues will be needed to clarify and internalize the one or other aspect, such as when yellow and when red cards should be given after a DOGSO offence in the penalty area.

Megatrend Video Assistant Refereeing

Nothing will very likely change football and refereeing more than what has been tested at Japan's FIFA Club World Cup during the past few days. What was a theoretical concept for some times, has materialized over the last 1-2 seasons: Video Assistant Refereeing is no longer theoretical, but truly practical. Not in all meanings of the term 'practical' though: The Club World Cup nicely mirrors the problems related to video referees that are still unsolved.

2017 will be very likely a decisive, next text phase for the VAR experiment. The system is about to be introduced in some major European leagues, which might be of higher and more pathbreaking relevance for its future than a small and, to be honest, not that important tournament in Japan.

The IFAB, FIFA, UEFA etc. will surely analyze the benefits and weaknesses of the system, carefully look into what went right and what went wrong in Japan to draw the right conclusions and adapt the system where needed.

Macrotrend Psychological and Personality-related Qualities

Ideally, Video Assistant Refereeing will ensure that crucial decisions will be taken in the best possible way in future. Therefore, decision-taking qualities will stay an important key competence of good referees, of course. However, it can be assumed that with big mistakes becoming less painful by being correctable, interindividual differences in the decision-taking-quality of referees will become less significant than they are nowadays, whereas other characteristics that qualify referees to reach the top might become more important.

With the VAR system being in sight, top-flight referees should move in a relatively high performance density in terms of decision-taking-qualities and fitness level. It can be expected that personal characteristics in other fields might become more critical for success in future, such as things which are commonly called 'soft skills'.

What makes a good referee be a very good one then in future?

More focus might be shifted on individual characteristics, such as:

- mental and tactical preparation prior to games deploying digital material
- coping strategies in terms of stress management
- self-management skills
- selling and communicating decisions instead of merely taking them correctly ('impression management')
- developing communication abilities (verbal & non-verbal) as part of educating referees
- psychological and mental training and assistance for referees
- screening, selecting and developing referees on the basis of success-critical personality traits
- considering other psychological concepts (e.g. intelligence, flow, mindfulness etc.) as part of referee selection and development

Emerging Trend: Higher Consideration of Smaller Footballing Nations/Teams

Recently, there is an emerging trend within FIFA and UEFA to put more focus on smaller footballing nations. A few signs of that:

- FIFA president Infantino planning a reform of the World Cup system, soon enabling more teams to join them
- UEFA having integrated teams like Gibraltar or Kosovo into their competitions
- New UEFA president Ceferin announcing he will stand up to bigger clubs to fight for smaller teams

In terms of refereeing, this trend is only observable in FIFA so far. Having a look at the pre-list for the next World Cup, there are - again - many officials from diverse and partly exotic nations. There is hardly any nation with more than 1 main referee anymore. It seems as if FIFA is working hard to reduce the dominance of allegedly superior nations and confederations. If quality wins, this can be only good.

This trend is not observable that much yet with regard to UEFA officiating as we have shown in a recent article. But this trend will very likely spare no-one. It will probably also reach Nyon against the background of the new president in office. So, it might not only be laudable, but even necessary  to have a closer look to referees from smaller nations that have a lower impact in terms of football in future. We will see whether this trend turns out into common praxis or whether it stays a one-hit wonder.

Metatrend: Fighting for Fairplay and Justice

The trend that stands above all these things circumscribed above seems to be a more or less genuine fight for fairplay and justice in football and refereeing.

The Laws of the Game revision was widely intended to simplify things but also to change some systematical "offender-victim"-passages and impacts on the game to the better, or at least to the more just (think about penalty kicks which are now given in case of an illegal interference by a team official, for example). Most other LotG changes were basically targeted at reinforcing the spirit of the game and making the fairplay principle be more represented in the written lawbook.

The VAR system is basically introduced to enhance the quality of important decisions that decide on sending-off or no sending-off, goal or no goal, win or loss. Focussing more on psychological qualities in the area of personality and game-management is rather our claim than a real observable trend at the moment. But also this one is aimed at increasing justice on the field of play as well as in terms of developing and selecting the right referees instead of making judgments based on a referee's origin, personal sympathies/antipathies or nepotism.

The higher consideration of smaller nations is also tending to bring more fairplay into football's organizing bodies and maybe even intro referee selection. Of course the main goals might be different and more political ones, but the observable move towards smaller nations is basically a moral one.

2017 will be vital for refereeing in many ways, as you can see. But the considerations made above also show how critical the past year, 2016, might have been for football refereeing in a long-term perspective.


  1. OT:

    I post it also here to not overlook this info:

    Regarding Sergio Ramos incident, Janny Sikazwe explained it was a communication problem between him and the assistant referee, who was shouting 'foul, no card'. VARs were not involved...

  2. What is wrong with Premier League refs??? In almost every match I watched there was at least one big mistake. On Saturday Vardy received RC from Pawson. One can say it is questionable whether it was a foul at all, because Vardy played the ball first. I believe we can go with reckless tackle and YC therefore. No word about RC for sure, big mistake. (1st video).
    Tonight, Barkley almost broke Henderson's leg, very dangerous play, and Dean (I really can't understand what he is doing in Premier League for years, he is terrible referee IMO) gave him only YC. Enormous mistake, it was clear, stonewall RC. Minutes later, after whistle for a foul, Barkley intentionally shot the ball away, and had to receive at least then RC for play delay, but Dean didn't have courage to give him second YC.
    Also, in City-Arsenal, first City's goal was offside, second was very close (not good angle of the camera). ARs in England make obvious mistakes every week, and main refs are far away from the level of such competition as well (except Clattenburg, and mostly Oliver, Taylor and Atkinson in his best times). Wenger said that in England refs are protected as lions, and I think he was right.
    My opinion is that in this blog there's been only a few comments about referees' decisions in national leagues (mostly in Poland, Croatia) and very rare in most important leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy). We should comment that as well, not only international matches, I think, especially when there are big mistakes.

    1. Basically I would agree with you honestly. Level of Elite refereeing is actually quite poor in the last years, really it has been not so well managed very intrinsically. The PGMOL model to my mind is okay but far from ideal, surely the AIA from Italy is a much better example of how to avoid a conflict of interest (PGMOL is mainly funded by the Premier League). The talent program isn't working that well, I think you can always rely on a special talent like Webb, Clattenburg (Oliver and Taylor?), Atkinson is a great referee, but there is no real level of solid referees below the top level, like Celi, Gonzalez Gonzalez, Gagelman for example elsewhere. The system is poor also, the clubs mark the referees and that contributes to their place on the average marks table. Also there are no referee observers at the stadium, rather there is former players who provide a report on the referee, and then an observer matches the match on television days later. Also England is one of the only nation's I remember not to move to the 6.0 - 10.0 scale. Instead we have certainly okay referees Pawson and Madley are certainly quite talented, to me you can rely (enough) on Marriner, Dean, Moss. Before there was Probert, he is coming back now but he is so frequently injured. But honestly these are the only options for any really important matches. Also they really mismanaged Stuart Attwell who actually had a chance for something more, still they mismanage him and FIFA rejected him because he hasn't led enough Premier League matches this season. Otherwise we have referees like Jones, Mason, Swarbrick and before there were at least names like Wiley, Dowd, Walton who didn't have the most modern style but were good referees in their day. And with Marriner, Atkinson, Dean very near the end of their careers actually I'm quite worried who will (or won't) succeed them.
      Anyway you mention Pawson, I feel for him because actually he is becoming a name now in England and it's his first real pressure after being very poor at Crystal Palace - Manchester United (7.1 imo) and the crucial mistake of the Vardy RC for Serious Foul Play. Big big change at English Assistant Refereeing, you mention Adam Nunn at Manchester City - Arsenal, personally I think you could back him on both calls. Wenger has a point I suppose but really I wouldn't care what he thinks. I really hope soon somebody at the Football Association actually tries to change something because the situation is only going to get worse. The only people suggesting any change are the bitter Poll, Hackett and Halsey really. This is not meant as any disrespect to any Premier League referees because I have so much respect for them just the PGMOL is awfully managed to my mind.

    2. I think that the red card to Vardy issued by Pawson is just a good call (however, it does not mean it won't be overruled by The FA, as they overruled obvious red cards in the past). Pawson just learned from his yellow card decision against Marcos Rojo in his previous game. One can discuss whether it's good to appoint referees for the last matchdays in the year so well in advance.

      Regarding Mike Dean today, I believe he had a good game that was spoiled by decision to book Barkley for SFP. To be fair, I think both Lee Mason (4th official) and Simon Long (assistant referee) could have helped Dean there. And yes, Barkley was very lucky to stay on the pitch in the 84th minute after kicking the ball away what could have been classified as either dissent by action (Barkley was discontented with free kick awarded by Mike Dean) or delaying the restart of the game. Dean chose to only warn Barkley and his opponent who sharply reacted on Barkley's unsporting behaviour.

      But OK, such mistakes may happen in the leagues with so intense games like today's Everton - Liverpool. I think English referees are very good in terms of body language, managing the game and mostly in decision-making but I agree that the number of crucial mistakes is really high and could be avoided only by using VAR system, unfortunately.

      I can't agree on Mike Dean being terrible referee and Pawson's red card being (big) mistake though.

      Are the refs in England protected as lions? Hmm, there is no visible line in dealing with mistakes. Some refs are appointed again and again after poor showings but some are less used by bosses. Anyway, the disciplinary committee often make idiotic decisions by rescinding correct and obvious red cards given by referees, what makes the referees unsure on the field of play.

      I will try to post some clips from big leagues in the future but it's not so easy to cover all the big games on time. :)

    3. Where is the problem with the Vardy RC? He lunges at high speed, two feet forward, off the ground, with studs showing. It is certainly no crucial mistake.

      As for refereeing in the UK, it seems that there is certainly an over-reliance on a few stars: Webb, Clatts, Atkinson, etc. In other words, refereeing is managed like the England national team: a few big names and a lot of fluff. And of course there's still the looming presence of Keith Hackett in the background who won't go away and plays referee pundit...

  3. 1) Dean isn't awful referee
    2) Both AR's decisions at City-Arsenal should be (at least) backed.
    First one is ~10 cm offside, second one is very difficult but good decision IMO.
    Just to add that it's both- referee's and assistant referee's responsability. Don't be so radical in your statements.
    3) But I agree with the point- Refereeing in England should (must) be better.

  4. What about French Ligue then?
    Refs there are in my opinion very lenient,they often allow very bad fouls to go unpunished...

  5. OT IFAB has changed the statement about the possible offside before the penalty assigned by Kassai. At first, they assessed as 100% correct the NO CALL by AR2, but now:!/news/first-use-of-video-review-at-fifa-club-world-cup-explained
    "However, the assistant referee’s decision not to indicate offside was not a clear error as any interference by Nishi was only evident after careful slow motion study of the replays and not during the limited time available for the VAR review. "

    1. Well, all those changes in Laws of The Game has led to a total mess. IMO, offside- and DOGSO-related things were much clearer as they were worded before changes. Even IFAB is not able to make clear statements as the LoTG allow too much room for interpretation!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. I don't agree to be honest. There is no room for interpretation.
      Two offences at the same time = the more serious one is punished. That is very easy and in line with common sense and football understanding. The problem arises from an unclear offside interpretation from my point of view. Remember the Soares situation. We did not discuss about holding. We did not discuss about the fact that if both occurred simultaneously - holding and offside - the holding must be punished. The point we discussed about was whether Lewandowski's movement towards a player with the ball being 10m away must be deemed as a "challenge" in the sense of the Laws. For me it was not, for others it was. Here we have room for interpretation.
      Where I acknowledge that one might have a different personal opinion is that "someone who is in offside may never become active, so he is out of play and it is irrelevant whether he is tackled or not". But IMO this only appears to be logical at first glance and becomes illogical if we consider the wider context of the Laws (e.g. the principal of active/passive offside etc.).

      The IFAB's statement is also very clear. There was an interference. But it was not visible in the limited time of the VAR consultation / video-checking-process. This is rather a proof of the VAR inefficiency than unclear Laws of the Game.

    4. Yes, the law about two offences at the same time is clear, you are right but I meant - among others - an offside interpretation (when the offside getting active, etc.).

  6. Situation from Copa del Rey. DOGSO in the penalty area. Was there an attempt to play the ball? Also a great example how to react on obvious encroaching the penalty area by players!


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