I’m really enjoying Euro 2016 – and for that we should all be grateful to my old friends, the referees. They’ve been an absolute breath of fresh air.
I’ve not always been a big fan of international football because it can be too much like chess at times. But in this tournament we’ve seen free-flowing games and that’s where the officials are due a lot of credit.
Guess what? Players are allowed to tackle again without thinking they’ll get booked. It’s great to see. In fact, it takes me back to the type of game I played at the start of my career. And the players are appreciating it without taking advantage.
Being old-fashioned, I’m a great believer in common sense above a strict application of the laws. If it’s a mistimed tackle, so what? As long as it’s not violent or a challenge that threatens to injure somebody, just get on with the game. And that’s what they are doing. The referees in France are still not missing anything serious. They’re still punishing the cynical fouls and the deliberate trips.
I can only think this refreshing approach comes from the leadership of the great Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina, who’s the man in charge.
When he was in the middle I thought he was always spot-on without being arrogant. The problem with some referees is that when they become good they then become pompous and arrogant. Collina was never like that, just got on with his job. We’re seeing similar from the referees he manages.
One of the best things about the tournament is that there’s been a lot less play-acting than I expected. Again, that’s down to the referees and the fact that players can tackle. When players go down theatrically the refs are just ignoring it and getting on with the game. The player writhing around on the floor then realises there’s no point and has to get to his feet.
Another great thing – there’s been little time-wasting, which is something I hate. What’s helped the referees in that regard is the multi-ball system, which is operating well. It works better in internationals than club football because you tend to get the home club’s ball boys being slow to give the ball back to the opposition, but in France it’s kept the game moving.
As for the knock-out stages, I don’t feel the refs will have to tighten up on their control. The games are being played in good spirit, most teams are going out to attack and I don’t think the type of football will change.
I’d love to believe we can adopt this sort of refereeing style when the English season begins again but I fear our leaders will teach the officials to ignore what we’ve seen and play it by the book. That’s why we don’t get the flow and the tackles. Referees should be allowed to manage games like they’re doing in France.
As for England, I’m pleased we’re still in the mix. I’m not a great Roy Hodgson fan because I’ve always felt he sets up not to lose rather than going to win.
But I have to say it’s been a long time since I’ve seen an England team be in charge of all the group games. Like the tournament as a whole, that’s been enjoyable to see, despite the lack of goals – and not just from England.
I think our forwards have needed an extra touch on too many occasions. For a game like the draw with Slovakia we needed someone like Andros Townsend to give us a different attacking option.
But I can sympathise with Hodgson over the criticism he’s received for the six changes he made for the Slovakia match. What if he’d gone in with key players like Wayne Rooney and Kyle Walker and they’d got injured? As a manager you can’t win either way.
But for me, the referees are winning all the way at the moment.