By Keith Hackett
The start of a new season sees many people making their predictions on who will win the Premier League and who will be relegated.
It’s a celebration of 25 years of a league that continues to grow – although I do miss those exchanges on Sky between Richard Keys and Andy Gray. Those forensic questions asked by Keys stimulated a detailed insight into how the game was played.
Also, it was thanks to the knowledge of the combative number nine who always kept you on your toes when you were out on the field refereeing the games that he took part in. And Martin Tyler is without question one of the great iconic football commentators and always a delight to listen too.
As for the referees in the middle, this year will perhaps be the biggest test for Mike Riley and his team at the PGMOL. Top referees do not grow on trees – they have to be coached, given clear direction and support. And guided through the transition between refereeing a football match to managing a world class event. They have to be advised, prepared and supported when they receive forensic examination of their performances.
The legendary World Cup referee Jack Taylor once told me that he would not look at any form of media comment on the games he officiated. The transition from being a top Football League referee to operating successfully in the Premier League is not easy. Neither is the examination of performances and I was fortunate to work with the likes of Poll, Durkin, Webb, Halsey and Clattenburg. Strong characters and outstanding referees with big personalities.
However, they would always seek and listen to advice. Martin Atkinson put his experience to good use and delivered one of his best seasons in my opinion. Michael Oliver should move into the top spot if he continues to put in the physical effort and achieves a better consistency on the big decisions. He is still a young guy and I really hope that he gets the deserved promotion to the elite FIFA list. He should then move in with a chance of representing England at the World Cup after Russia.
I was delighted to see Bobby Madley and Paul Tierney officiating at the Premier League’s Asia Tournament. This should ensure that they get their season off to a good start. Madley reminds me so much of former referee Peter Willis. He’s capable of managing the things that pop up during the course of a game and dealing admirably with on field conflict between players. Indeed, he delivered a good performance in the season opener between Chelsea and Arsenal in the Community Shield.
However, the PGMOL looks too thin on numbers and quality and there is a distinct lack of succession planning. I will continue to state that the problem started when the current managing director of the PGMOL had a cull of the various referee coaches in place. Durkin, Harris, Dilkes, and others were discarded. They were much better than those who remained. The current group of coaches at the PGMOL are just not delivering.
Retrospective punishment brought in by the Football Association will I hope act has a true deterrent against those players guilty of diving.
Over the pond, the first week of the public use of the Video Assistant Referee in Major League Soccer has worked well. The Premier League are dithering on this and are still to decide if they will use the VAR. The one thing that can be guaranteed is that there will be action, there will be controversy and referees will not be far from the centre of it.