An example is their tradition of an official, full-time go-between. This delegate sits on the bench with you, and works between you, your staff, and the fourth official during games. He is also responsible for taking the team sheets in, hands the numbers over for substitutions, effectively takes players you nominate on and off, and in the case of any problems with the referee it’s his job to sort it out. Appointed by the club, he has to be qualified for this role.
Now, could this ever work in the Premier League? In my opinion it would take some strong lobbying from referees themselves before any such scheme was even given the time of day. While I may have found it a strange custom, and communications did not always go to plan, that was possibly more down to the fact I wasn’t used to it more than anything else. In La Liga it’s an important role, and I have to say all the other clubs we played against seemed more than happy with it.
The sheer number of bookings in La Liga is unbelievable, which can be frustrating. It’s difficult for the referees to see through all the play-acting at times, and the referee I liked most out there was surprised when I told him it was actually because he stopped the game less than the others and allowed the game to flow.
I don’t want to single out one referee for praise, either from a playing career that covered 18 years or for the last 18 years in which I’ve managed. But I was brought up in a family with a strong football background, to love the game and always respect the referees as there could be no game without them.
They are doing the best job they can, and if they make bad decisions but they are honest decisions, they have my unspoken respect from the word go. Over the years I’ve inevitably had my ups and downs with officials, but that does not mean I don’t admire them or recognise how vital they are.
As managers we all have to referee small-sided games in training, and no one is keen on that side of the job, believe me! I just hope that the men in the middle can understand the emotions which sometimes push those on our side that wee bit over the line.
Yes, in my short time in Spain I saw plenty of refereeing differences and in my opinion the standard in the Premier League is higher. You won’t find going down easy being discouraged in many quarters in La Liga, while that’s something I’ve always drummed into the teams I have managed.
That experience underlined for me what a difficult job all refs have, wherever they may be.