Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is the best ever captain to have graced the Premier League, with Chelsea’s John Terry and Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira close behind, according to You Are The Ref’s Mark Halsey.
The three star players are high on a list of the top 10 captains compiled by the former FIFA and Premier League referee, who spent 14 years in the top flight.
He also tips Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross to get back into Roy Hodgson’s England squad and discusses the sacking of former Swansea City boss Garry Monk.
“It’s those first impressions you make on the captains because players know the referees, players know what they can and can’t get away with, players know a weak referee,” said Halsey.
Here are the top 10 captains he experienced as a referee, along with how he could have prevented a legend from being sent off in his last fixture against Manchester United:
1- Steven Gerrard
Number one for me is Steven Gerrard. Great captain. We always had good respect for one another. Good banter on the field of play, shop floor banter. When he’s not happy with your decisions he’ll let you know but at the same time he’d let you know if he thought you were doing well.
I remember a couple of incidences – there was this one game where I was refereeing Norwich versus Liverpool. Suarez got a wonderful hat-trick and I blew the whistle and was like ‘cor, that wasn’t a bad half for you.’ Gerrard replied: ‘it’s a change for you to have a decent game’ and I said: ‘that makes two of us.’ He had a little chuckle.
I always remember refereeing Liverpool versus Manchester United where I awarded a late penalty to United and Gerrard said ‘you’re having an absolute nightmare today, absolute nightmare.’ I responded ‘it’s a penalty Steven, I’m sorry.’ He responded saying ‘don’t blame me for your lacklustre performance’ and that was that, but I must have his respect because he asked me to referee his testimonial. I remember him writing in his book that he liked me as a referee because I had good banter and it helps when you have that relationship with the captains.
2- John Terry
I remember sending him off once playing for Chelsea against Man City, he came into my dressing room, sat next to me and we spoke about the sending off. He didn’t agree with it but I explained myself and we left on good terms. I’ve always had respect for John.
It’s funny because every time he came into my dressing room I used to give him a little slap and he’d go ‘why do you always do that to me?’ I said ‘I dunno it’s just habit’ and he goes “yeah, you always slap me round the face’ and just smiled. It’s those first impressions you make on the captains because players know the referees, players know what they can and can’t get away with, players know a weak referee, captains know a weak referee – the way they speak to you when you bring in the team sheet and shake their hand.
3- Matt Holland
Matt Holland, when he was captain of Ipswich. He was a pleasure on the pitch, he wouldn’t say a bad word to you. Never an ounce of problem with him and when you refereed his teams, he would be an absolute gentlemen.
4- Patrick Vieira
He was fantastic! Great chat on the field of play. I always remember him having a go at me and I told him ‘why don’t you **** off and leave me to it?’ Vieira said ‘you’re funny, you make me laugh, I like you as a referee.’
That sort of banter goes well with the captains and goes to show you’re human. With that level of shop floor language you use and all the referees use it, you have to.
5- Tony Adams
I always got on well with Tony when he was captain. He could be a peacemaker but would also come up to you and ask one or two things. Obviously he didn’t always agree but he was a gentlemen on the pitch. If they give it, you give it as good as you got and give it back to them!
Even after he played when he was assistant manager at Portsmouth in the Premier League, he was always polite and if he had a problem he would always come up and speak to you and ask you about certain things. That is what you want with captains, you don’t want captains who lose their heads and they need to be calm.
6- Roy Keane
You knew what you were getting with Roy Keane, he wasn’t difficult because you knew what he was like. You knew he wouldn’t do things behind your back. I just used to say to him: “Oi, behave yourself and no silly challenges” and he used to respect that from you.
He’s the sort of player I used to get on with and I enjoyed refereeing him because he spoke my language and he knew I accepted that as a referee. As long as it’s not directed at you it’s not a problem. It’s when it’s directed at you it becomes a problem.
7- Philip Neville
Phil was superb at Everton, he was decent to talk to once he left Manchester United and it’s the same with Gary. It was as if they weren’t allowed to speak to us or communicate with us at United, but once Phil went to Everton he was totally different. He was approachable, you could talk to him, no problem at all.
I know he respected me and I never had a problem with Gary. I speak to him a lot now, very approachable and a very likeable person but he was the same. He was the captain but he wouldn’t talk to you, he didn’t want to have a conversation with you. I don’t know whether it was installed to him via the club, or whether Sir Alex Ferguson said don’t get involved with referees, but I don’t know why – we’re all human.
8- Alan Shearer
When Alan Shearer was captain of Newcastle he would always try and get stuff off you, to help his team. He would be constantly at you trying to get decisions for his team. He got into your mind-set and as a referee you’ve got to be mentally strong and mentally tough.
He would get at you to make you give that free kick that never was, or make you give them the 50/50s and perhaps sometimes he would try and be nice so you’d give them to him. As I say players knew what they got from me when I crossed that line, they knew I wasn’t weak. They knew I would give players a chance but as soon as they crossed that line they knew I would hammer them.
9- Ryan Shawcross
He was hard but fair. One thing about Ryan is that if he was to do something he wouldn’t do it behind your back, and I always remember him getting a headbutt from Fellaini in a Stoke vs Everton game and he came up to me and said: “Mark, he’s just headbutted me” and I said: ‘listen, I haven’t seen it but if he has, then the cameras will pick it up and he will get retrospective action.” He did, and he got a three-match ban.
We have Gary Cahill, Chris Smalling, John Stones and Phil Jones, but I think we do seem to be struggling in that area and I think if he has a good season, I don’t see why he can’t get back into Roy Hodgson’s England squad. He is an excellent leader, a tough player and that’s what you want, and he is a player who can look after himself. You want to see aggression in your centre half, same as you do in your centre forward, but he controls that aggression, he gives 110%.
10- Stiliyan Petrov
At Aston Villa he was great but he was all over you. We got on well together but he was always at you, trying to help you or when he felt like things went against him, he was always the first player to come to you.
“Hey Mark, I’m trying to talk to you, what was this for, what was that for” but he was a good lad to deal with. On the whole there was never a nasty captain to be honest.
Mark also discussed the time he thought Steven Gerrard’s sending off against Manchester United last season at Anfield could have been avoided.
“When I retired I watched Steven Gerrard in his last season when he was substitute against Manchester United. Over the years you get to know players, you get to know their strengths, their personalities and you get to know what makes them tick, what makes them act or makes them lose their self-discipline.
“Looking at Steven Gerrard when he came on as a substitute, I knew that he was seething. Before he got on the pitch he’d lost that self-discipline because that was one game he wanted to play. He wasn’t happy, you could see in his body language.
“In the first challenge against Juan Mata, where he got the ball but came through him, the referee should have gone ‘bang’ and given a free kick. Although he got the ball, it was a reckless challenge. The ref should have stamped his authority on the incident and given a free kick to United. I would have called Steven across and said ‘calm down or you’ll be in trouble.’
“Martin Atkinson was the referee that day, he didn’t manage that incident like he should have done and it was the assistant that flagged up the stamp on Ander Herrera in the next challenge. As a referee at that level, it’s about the awareness of what’s going on around you as well. That’s what helps you manage the players and gets players on your side.
“I picked it up straight away, I knew. As I say, the referee – it is his responsibility to spot that. It’s about awareness, trying to keep the 22 players on the pitch, but there’s some incidences on the field you can’t manage and obviously that stamp was one of them. Had the referee picked up Steven’s body language before, he could have given the free kick, called Steven to him, calmed him down, and that next incident wouldn’t have happened.”
Halsey also gives a special mention to former Swansea City manager Garry Monk, a constant throughout his entire career.
“I’ve refereed Garry throughout all the divisions. It’s not often that you get a player who started in the old fourth division and worked their way up to the Premier League.
“I remember refereeing him a few times in the Premier League, he was a good lad. When he used to annoy me, I used to call him ‘Monky’ and he used to respond and we always had a good laugh. He was very good on the field, he would always come up to you and if you needed a player calming down he would always go and sort it. I used to say: “Hey Monky, sort him out before I do.
“I think it’s great how he was at the club for such a long time. I just think it’s disappointing that he hasn’t been given the chance to see it through as manager. Swansea had a great season last year, I just felt it was a bit premature to get rid of him, personally.
“They should have let him have January and the transfer window, and see if he could sort out a couple of players and if they could lift themselves out of it. Just because they’ve started losing I don’t think they should’ve sacked him, because he has done such a good job for the club – not just as a manager but as a player and a captain.
“It goes to show it is a results business, and does that make it right? I know what it’s all about, it’s the £100 million the clubs pick up at the end of the season.”