A-League referees could do with more common sense

"Ask any player and they will all say the refereeing this season is the worst it has ever been." This was the disturbing text I got from a high-profile player who like many others is exasperated by poor decisions and lack of consistency from officials in the A-League.

Melbourne Victory Besart Berisha A-League Brisbane Roar

Besart Berisha sees red against Brisbane Roar Source: Getty Images

There is no question the A-League's progress is being jeopardised by the unsatisfactory quality of refereeing.

The refereeing standard has hit a new low this season in terms of the players' and the public's perception despite the A-League's claim that it is the best in the competition's 12-year history.

If that's the case, their best is simply not good enough.


Unfortunately a few A-League officials sometimes appear to be keen on stealing the limelight from the players and forget that the best referees are those who do their jobs without being noticed.

Officiating has been so much part of the A-League's narrative this season that some referees and their assistants should be given a rest.

No weekend seems to go by without a major incident affecting the course or outcome of a match.

It's as if you expect a blunder every week.

The incidents that had clubs, coaches, players, fans and the media shaking their heads in bewilderment and frustration have been too many to record.

Good goals disallowed or illegal ones given, penalties unfairly awarded or denied, players wrongly sent off and dozens of bad offside calls have become the norm.

Mistakes happen everywhere and it would be utterly unreasonable and overly unrealistic to expect referees to be error-free.

However the bottom line is that many players in Australia have lost confidence in the refereeing sector mainly due to poor decisions and inconsistency.

What passes in one match is punished in the next and referees seem to be using a different set of rules and guidelines.

I am sure that that is is not the case but that is how they come across.

"The players are asking for consistency, that's all we want to see," Western Sydney Wanderers striker Brendon Santalab says.

This article is not a cheap shot at the A-League's referees and their assistants, who have the unenviable task of making split decisions without the benefit of replays at a time when the game has never been played at a faster pace and when play-acting by players has never been more prevalent.

And it is not accusing the refereeing sector of ruining the game as a spectacle.

For every poor decision by a referee, there are tens of missed tackles, misplaced passes or poor attempts on goal.

And Australia, needless to say, is not the only place in the world where refereeing blunders can spoil games.

But refereeing is a major problem in the A-League and it must be dealt with.

Football is governed by 17 laws that cover all aspects of the game, from the size of the field to the complicated offside rule.

But there is also an unwritten law that referees in Europe are encouraged to adopt and which Australian referees seem reluctant to follow: it's the 'law' of common sense.

Referees need to have a better 'feeling' for the game they are controlling and recognise that in the heat of battle what might appear to be an act of cynical play is usually nothing more than a clash between strong-willed opponents with a clear absence of malice.
Too often referees have been too quick to come down hard on players who are deemed to have committed serious foul play.

The red card to Melbourne Victory striker Besart Berisha who clashed with Brisbane Roar's Luke DeVere was a classic case of over-zealous officiating.

The match review panel thankfully saw the folly behind the Albanian's sending-off early in the second half and rescinded the card so justice appeared to have been done.

Well, not really. Victory were forced to play with 10 men for the rest of the match so they were wrongly disadvantaged by officials who did not use their common sense.

Central Coast Mariners striker Roy O'Donovan was sent off for an almost similar incident involving Melbourne City's Michael Jakobsen when a yellow card would have sufficed and nobody would have complained.

It would be interesting to see if the MRP is consistent enough to rescind the Irishman's card, too.

On the same weekend Sydney FC fullback Rhyan Grant could so easily have been sent off for a studs-up tackle on Adelaide United's Marcelo Carrusca but he got away with a yellow card. Soon after a perfectly legitimate goal from striker Filip Holosko was ruled out for offside.

Grant's lunging tackle could have broken the Argentine's leg and it was twice as bad as that of Berisha or O'Donovan.

Yet Berisha and O'Donovan saw red and Grant got off lightly with a yellow. Go figure.

I'm not in favour of too much technology in football. The human element in the game should be maintained for as long as possible and mistakes usually even out during the course of a season, anyway.

Yet if it they lead to better decisions that do not take long to be made the Video Assistant Referees that are scheduled to be introduced towards the end of the season cannot come soon enough.

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5 min read
Published 22 January 2017 at 10:00am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS