I had the pleasure of watching Mark Clattenburg officiate live on Saturday and I have lost count of how many times I have seen him in the flesh over the years on his way to the top.
I think the boos he had to endure are, unfortunately, what you have to expect as part of the atmosphere at a final, and I predicted this reaction from whoever the losing fans may be before a ball was kicked or a whistle was blown on Saturday.
It would certainly not affect my personal assessment of my own performance if I were Mark Clattenburg as he turns his attention to Saturday’s Milan final between Atletico and Real Madrid.
Having been in his shoes in 2004, when I took charge of Jose Mourinho’s Champions League victory with Porto over Monaco in Gelsenkirchen, at least Mark will not have one problem to face which possibly led to more headaches than usual at Wembley: the quality of the players on show.
For me, the amount of errors from the players provided Mark’s biggest challenge, not the advantage decisions for which he has been criticised.
OK, when Wickham came away from his tussle with Smalling and scored, it is easy to come down on one side of the ‘wait or whistle’ argument. However, I did notice that several players had stopped and that can become an issue in the mind of the referee, as I am sure it did on this occasion.
Then there was the Rojo yellow card, when Mark could also have allowed play to continue. We have had a debate in Denmark over this issue recently, funnily enough.
What people can fail to understand is that, if you wait while there are holding offences going on, this can lead to a fight instead! I’m not saying this would have happened here, but it is always worth remembering for the referee that to blow early and give one yellow can be better than blowing late and being forced to dismiss several players.
I was relieved for Mark in one sense, in fact, because even though all the yellow cards he gave Manchester United in the first half were justified, it was good from the point of view of his game management that he booked Palace’s Scott Dann as the second half had just begun.
When one team gets all the punishments their sense of injustice builds up and that can cause you a problem. As soon as they see it is possible for the opposition to be punished, all of a sudden they trust you again….
As far as his communication with his assistants was concerned, there were some errors, but things went well overall. The role of fourth official is an important one and I spotted Neil Swarbrick following Mark’s lead in the way he took every opportunity, such as time during injury treatment, to talk to the players.
Mark was clearly doing this too, and his words for Rooney showed how close the United captain came to a second yellow card. Rooney’s body language and his apology suggested he knew his challenge was not a 50-50 one, either!
Mark also used the physical gesture of an elbow himself at one point and was warning Fellaini and Puncheon on the subject less than a minute before he booked the Belgian for use of the elbow on Jedinak.
On the whole, then, I would not give Mark the kind of report card he received from the media. The speed of Palace’s players on the break was a big influence on the course of the game and the mistakes made by players from both sides made the job so much harder.
Purely from a selfish point of view I was glad I was in a noisy, non-neutral part of the ground for my first FA Cup Final experience. It showed me what the famous FA Cup is all about. The referee kept up with play superbly and whether or not you agreed with all his decisions, he was always in the right place to make them.
I wish Mark all the best for the weekend. He is the best man for the job.
Vi ses (see you soon), Kim