England’s leading referee is swapping the Premier League for Saudi Arabia where he will replace Howard Webb as the head of refereeing. Unlike Webb, though, Clattenburg, who refereed the Euro 2016 final, is also expected to officiate at matches throughout the kingdom. The 41-year-old was announced at a slightly stilted press conference in Jeddah on Thursday when the County Durham-born Clattenburg reaffirmed his love for Newcastle United before pronouncing himself on an “educational” mission to improve and “professionalise” refereeing standards throughout Saudi Arabia. Premier League sources acknowledged he may have taken charge of his final game in England but refused to entirely rule out the possibility of his officiating in this country again – possibly even this season.
Identified as a high flyer right from his early days as an 18-year-old assistant referee in the Northern League, Clattenburg reportedly grew disillusioned by the level of public support officials are offered by Professional Game match officials Ltd. With Clattenburg’s relationship with Mike Riley, the referee’s overlord, apparently tense, he began listening to offers from the Middle East, China and the United States. It now seems Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Hull last Saturday may have been the final domestic act of a Newcastle-based FIFA official whose talent has enabled him to surmount setbacks that might have floored some peers.
In 2008-2009 Clattenburg served an eight-month suspension while PGMOL investigated his business dealings. He was swiftly and emphatically cleared of any wrongdoing. In 2012 Chelsea complained he had used inappropriate language towards Mikel Jon Obi. His career trajectory seemed serenely in the ascendant until a reprimand from Riley in 2014. This involved breaches of protocol when he drove to Tyneside to see an Ed Sheeran concert after refereeing a Crystal Palace v West Bromwich game and speaking to the then Palace manager Neil Warnock on the phone after the game.
Very much a man of his time, Clattenburg resisted the convention that referees should be models of discretion and happily displayed the tattoos of the European Cup and European Championship trophies he acquired after taking charge of both finals last summer.
PGMOL was unstinting in its praise for Clattenburg during an amicable parting of the ways, with no bridges apparently burned. “Mark set standards for others to follow,” it said in a statement. “Mark has been a great asset to the English game and hopefully an inspiration to those who want to get into refereeing at the grassroots of the game. We understand this is an exciting opportunity for Mark”.
Clattenburg, meanwhile, was introducing himself to a new public. “My name is Mark Clattenburg”, he told Saudi journalists, before outlining plans. “I’m from a city called Newcastle. Anybody who knows England well, knows we have the best team in the country. I was recently voted the best referee in the world [at Dubai’s Globe Soccer Awards in December], therefore I bring a wealth of knowledge and a passion for improving refereeing and education here in Saudi Arabia. “I’m very humbled by this exciting opportunity to support and educate referees, to use my expertise in refereeing some matches and bring referees from other countries around the world to improve the standard here”.
Source: The Guardian