Author: Alan Biggs
Saudi Arabia’s need for a new refereeing supremo has sparked a move for Mark Clattenburg, the Premier League’s number one official.
The Saudis aimed high when they lured Howard Webb into the job 18 months ago, seeking an international figurehead for their developing football scene.
Webb is now about to start a new job in Major League Soccer in America and Canada after taking a key role with the Professional Referee Organisation (PRO).
This left Saudi Arabia seeking a replacement of similar stature – and with the financial pulling power to achieve it. And that led to the logical scenario of an approach for Clattenburg, who was already at the centre of speculation about interest from China.
The difference is that Webb had retired from refereeing when he moved to the Middle East for a role he combined with being a match day pundit for BT Sports.
Clattenburg, 41, is at the peak of his career having emulated Webb’s achievement of presiding over two major finals in the same year.
However, Webb wasn’t much older when he was seen to prematurely quit the middle at 43 in 2014 after officiating the Champions League final and World Cup final in 2010.
Clattenburg, the Euro 2016 final referee on top of handling the Champions League final, is in a similar position after achieving almost everything a career can offer.
While he will have had aspirations about the 2018 World Cup, the North east official will doubtless have been plotting a career in football after refereeing. And the Saudi opportunity, while provoking a dilemma, will have been very appealing.
The news is a major blow for the Premier League. A statement from Professional Game Match Officials Ltd said: "Since joining the PGMOL Select Group in 2004, Mark developed into one of our top officials, refereeing at the highest level and setting standards for others to follow.
"Mark is a talented referee, he has been a great asset to the English game and hopefully an inspiration to those who want to get into refereeing at the grass roots of the game.
"We understand this is an exciting opportunity for Mark as well as further underlining what high esteeem English match officials are held throughout the world game."