Since my last column Mark Clattenburg has resigned from the Premier League’s Select Group, and this very weekend will add another unlikely chapter to a jet-setting plot-twist which surprised many, if not all of us.
It’s a great pity he has chosen to leave the UK at such a young age and take up the post of Head of Refereeing at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and while I’m sure he can remain his pro-active, confident self for the remainder of our domestic league season, he must guard against those looking to jump on his case if he should fall even slightly below the fabulous standards he has set.
As a player you do look to exploit anything you could remotely perceive as a weakness, and having one eye on the next destination is probably an even greater danger for officials than it would be for players and managers.
Talking of the need for total concentration, I don’t think there was necessarily any particular lack of focus due to the sunshine trip some of our top referees reportedly undertook earlier in the same week.
In Anthony Taylor’s case, when he wrongly awarded a penalty against Swansea after cameras showed the ball hitting the hand of Burnley’s Sam Vokes, I think he can be permitted some leeway.
The ball skimmed over so many heads and at such speed that any referee is entitled to make what he did, a bad call, without us looking any further into it.
As for Kevin Friend, I’m afraid his performance at Old Trafford only confirmed what I have long suspected, and that is simply that he lacks the presence required to convince enough of us he can handle proceedings at the very top level.
It really was spectacularly bad, with a mistake compounded by a mistake compounded by another mistake.
One of my reasons for diagnosing his problem as personality-related was demonstrated by the sheer amount of players who appeared to be able to have their say, whether it was Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or all the other players who almost engulfed Friend at times.
The impression was given that it was the giant Swede giving the lecture to the referee at one point, not the other way round.
Don’t get me wrong, I would like to see Kevin react positively and his fitness is certainly not a problem. He has to use his authority on the field at the first opportunity instead of behaving in a way which will only encourage players to take a chance on getting away with more and more nonsense.
Let’s not forget, he has been in the Select Group since 2009, so he’s been full-time for eight years, while he is still only 45 and hopefully has a few years in him yet.
The best of our referees in the Premier League era, guys like Graham Poll, Paul Durkin and Howard Webb, all possessed that presence I am talking about; that demeanour that comes from being in total, unassailable control.
Yet even they all had their moments, remember, with Poll and Webb having particularly memorable meltdowns with the eyes of the whole world upon them, in 2006 and 2010 respectively.
In those matches between Croatia and Australia and Spain and the Netherlands, play clearly developed beyond their control, yet presumably no one has ever seriously suggested these were not entirely qualified men with the experience to have earned their appointments.
You could argue that, last Saturday, Friend might also have reasonably expected more support from his assistants than the one very obvious example which saw him eventually dismiss poor Andrew Surman.
That doesn’t matter any more. No, he has to take the experience and the reaction on the chin, front it up and overcome what was a very bad day at the office. Only then will he earn back the trust of fans, players and managers alike, so that the next time he gets a big game, the news is not met by millions and millions of raised eyebrows.