We often go gaga about the fitness levels of players like Ronaldo, Bale, Zlatan etc. Players like Kante and Vidal fascinate us by the amount of ground they cover in a match. At the same time, the sheer reflexes of goalkeepers sway us off our feet at times.
Amidst this awe and fascination, there are also present on the pitch these unnoticed pioneers. Pioneers who do all of the above mentioned, yet aren’t applauded for it. They are the ones responsible for a match to even take place. Yes, you guessed it right, we are talking about the field referees.
How difficult is the job of a referee?
The job of a referee entails multiple aspects of the game. Be it consistently maintaining eyes on the ball or crucial calls, the shoulders of a referee are burdened with multiple factors. A referee is the softest target for managers, especially in the modern day game. Be it managers of the smaller teams, or coaches like Wenger himself, have all blamed referees too often for mishaps in the game. Though, it is agreed that referees do make a bad call at times. The fact still remains that they receive too much flak from coaches, players, and the fans.
“You can’t applaud a referee“-Alex Ferguson
This very quote by Sir Alex is more or less the perspective of people associated with football. There are matches where referees have done a phenomenal job, and yet they never received any word of acknowledgement. The logic behind such a stance is that it is the “responsibility” of a referee to be fair, hence they are just doing their job. Though, the same rule doesn’t apply to the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. Despite scoring goals being their responsibility, they are applauded when they do, unlike that of a referee. So on a psychological and emotional front, being a referee is a very difficult task and requires a great deal of patience & perseverance to thrive.
The physical requirements and training:
Most of the referees in today’s era are over the age of 40. Yet, the average ground covered by most referees falls between 7-9 miles a game. That is the equivalent of ground covered by hard-working players such as Kante, Fabregas, Matic, Jake Livermore etc. The referees are required to maintain a 10-12 feet distance around the ball at almost all times. The referees, unfortunately, do not have the option of being substituted when tired, hence they have to develop a proper stamina level. Referees also have to monitor their movement across the pitch. Often, the players have collided with referees or used them as a shield to pass(trend picked up from basketball). Therefore, the referees have been advised by FIFA to avoid their traditional S-path movement across the pitch and follow a more direct box to box approach.
“Coaches do so much research about a referee because they believe refereeing is such a crucial part of the game that the result may hinge on what we say or do. They probably know more about me than I know myself!” – Alan Lewis
The referees have to go through extensive training routines especially before crucial matches like World Cups and Champions League finals. Another aspect which referees are trained to deal with is crowd pressure. There have been times when the extremely vocal crowds have not let the referees focus and pressured them into favouring the home side. To avoid such incidents, referees are made to do certain mental exercises where they learn to focus better. Hence, with all their accolades and failures, referees are humans after all. They do not receive the respect and praise they deserve for their services. Here is a video by FIFATV giving us a glimpse of the referee camp during the World Cup preparations: