Clattenburg on his life as a referee

English referee Mark Clattenburg has seen the very highs, and the very lows, of what whistle blowing can bring. From a UEFA Champions League semi-final between Bayern Munich and Barcelona, or an Olympics Games gold medal match, to being accused by Chelsea of being a racist in a stormy game against Manchester United in 2012.
It’s easy for fans, pundits, coaches, players and angry supporters on social media to vent, but how does the actual man in the middle cope with it? “24 cans of beer”, Clattenburg joke “No, it’s difficult. A lot of guys deal with it in different ways. I’ll have a few beers, because it’s stressful. You have to wind down; the wife and family leave us alone. Within 24 hours, you turn. We use sports psychologists and it’s important to say ‘park it, move on’.” One of those examples was the stormy afternoon at Stamford Bridge in 2012, when he sent off Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres as Chelsea lost to Manchester United 3-2, with the winning goal offside, before he was accused of calling Jon Obi Mikel a “monkey”. Mikel was subsequently suspended for three games, while Clattenburg was cleared. “Probably the biggest low in my life was the Chelsea-Manchester United game, when I was accused of being a racist. But, take the racism out of it, one of the biggest lows, was I thought I was right when I sent off Torres”, Clattenburg reflected. “I possibly was right under the laws of the game. But under the spirit of the game, to reduce a team down to nine men for simulation is too tough, in hindsight I was wrong. I should’ve been experienced enough to use my knowledge of the game to not reduce a team down to nine men. I probably would’ve taken less criticism after the game. I’m not saying things would’ve changed, but I would’ve looked back at the match and thought ‘okay, the offside goal’s not my fault’... I’ve made many mistakes in my career but it’s made me the man I am now.” And it’s not always easy to deal with, given the rampant spotlight on elite sport nowadays. “Your life changes, of course it does”, he said. “When you go out you’re a recognised figure. That’s not something I want to be, but in England, it’s difficult because the scrutiny in England, you’re like a player. The media have turned referees into world stars – because controlling a football match at the highest level takes a lot of effort and dedication. I think social media has changed a lot of things, because people can have an opinion, but don’t have the insights into handling multi-millionaires successfully. That takes a lot of man management skills. The laws of the game are there, you have to understand them and apply… a little bit of understanding, life understanding, and that’ll make the most successful referee. If you apply the laws of the game strictly, the public paying extremely good money won’t see an event. Even on Saturday, I could’ve blown five or six more free-kicks, but I was taking risks. The game needed to be moved on to another level, also, the ICC, you don’t want to see a send-off early, people have paid to watch a good game of football between 11 v 11.” Clattenburg reveals a feel for the game and its nuances that the public take for granted when watching the match. Indeed, in a fascinating insight into the work that goes into becoming a top line referee, dealing with the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, or multi-millionaire egos on the football pitch, Clattenburg explained to some of the requirements to stay at the top of the EPL for a decade, while becoming one of UEFA’s best referees.
Legendary referee Pierluigi Collina, the boss of UEFA’s whistle blowers, has taught Clattenburg the importance of detail, particularly as they’re exposed to more different styles of player from across the globe. “For example, I did Bayern v Barcelona, the (UEFA Champions League) semi-final, he was my observer and he gave me some tips from the first game, a little insight, and when I saw it in the game, I knew exactly what was going to happen,” he revealed. It was tactical. It was unbelievable, it solved the game. From the 16th minute, when he gave me some information and I punished it with a foul, the simplest foul that any journalist or anyone in the world wouldn’t have thought anything of, it actually won us the match. That simple preparation won us the match. I’ll openly admit five years ago I didn’t prepare for a game. I just turned up. You can’t now; you need to know everything that’s going on”. Alongside the mental side of the game, referees need to keep pace – and the EPL is renowned as the quickest in the world. Pre-season involves high intensity and endurance work, while in the season recovery becomes as big a factor as speed becomes more of a focus. “When I first started in the Premier League, I would see statistics and I would work hard in the first-half and then fatigue in the second-half”, Clattenburg said. “Most of my mistakes were made in the last 10 minutes. That was interesting, because, I wasn’t fit for the level I was refereeing at. I was 96 kilo – a big young boy, now I’m 74-75, less than 10 per cent body fat. That’s something I’ve dedicated to because the modern game has changed. 10 years ago, the game wasn’t as quick as it is now. You’ve got athletes. As a referee, you’ve got to make sure you’re in the best position possible. Distance is important. We use Pro Zone and they calculate how far away you are from the ball. But it’s also about perception – players will accept the decision more if you’re closer, and if you are, you’ve got less chance of a player running across you. People don’t understand, they see it clear on camera – but sometimes a player can run across you at the wrong time, and you can miss it,” he said. Clattenburg admits he’s a bit different in his approach as his fitness allows him to get wider of the play to make the best decision possible. “Definitely true, because if you’re looking at a front end decision, you’ll see it differently. If I’m looking front on to an attacker I can’t see an attacker behind, but if I go wide, I can see the push or the touch on the ankle and you can’t guess in football. When a player goes down now, you’ve got to make sure you’ve seen the contact. And if there’s contact, you’ve got to be sure it’s a foul – because the way some of these players hit free-kicks now, it’s like giving a penalty. Coaches and players who lose will analyse a game and then move on. It’s the same in refereeing; you have to learn from your mistakes. It’s the most important thing. You’re not going to be right all the time. Don’t just say I got it wrong, ask why”, he said. “One of my weaknesses is I lose concentration. The game might be too easy, I’m strolling around, and I lose my concentration and thought. It’s like a goalkeeper losing his thought and the ball goes past him. I’m trying to find ways not to lose my concentration. As long as you understand why you’re making mistakes...”
The Europa League curse is an excuse for players – but what about referees returning from the continent, fitting two or three games into a week? “Gone are the days where you’d have a beer after the match. Sure, you want to enjoy the success of a match. But once it’s done, you want to start preparing yourself for your next one. For example, if you’re doing a Champions League game Wednesday, travelling Thursday, got a game Saturday – once the game’s done Wednesday evening late, you’re preparing for your next one. Is it a massage, a recovery, even if you’re travelling – for me living in the North, it’s difficult with travel time. It’s what happens all season”. Clattenburg says the work-life balance that full-time refereeing allows will not just improve standards, but encourage aspiring referees. “I wouldn’t call them ‘professional’ referees. Every referee in the world is professional, on the field and off the field. The dedication I’ve seen these guys do is phenomenal”, he said. “These guys are at the same level, just that they haven’t got the full-time commitment from the financial and off the field point of view. What full-time referees allows, it makes them figure heads for the next generation. And that’s what improves – the next generation want to be full-time referees. It gives them something to enjoy. What job allows me to stand on the MCG, in the middle of a Real Madrid v Roma match, and I’m the happiest man in the world because that is the most satisfying. We have 30,000 referees, but only 17 full-time. The ratio is small. But what happens in England is they might have a mid-week game, go to work fatigued, and then they have to train to keep fit in the evening. Where’s the family time? And family time is important to me – so if I’m happy, when I go out to referee, I’m happy. It’s a great balance”.

Source: Fox Sports