That’s the view of former referees’ chief Keith Hackett on the criticism officials receive from ex-players and pundits.
“It’s a little bit like me advising Lionel Messi on how he can improve his performance and where he went wrong.”
It is natural for fans, players and managers to fixate on the decisions that cost their side, the penalty that never was and the soft red card at the weekend. But just how many decisions do referees have to make, and how many do they get right? You may be surprised at the findings.
The man in the middle…
According to the PGMO (Professional Game Match Officials) Premier League referee makes around 245 decisions per game, three times more than an average player touches the ball over 90 minutes. That’s one decision every 22 seconds.
Approximately 45 of these decisions are technical – whether goal-kicks, corners or throw-ins – leaving around 200 decisions to judging physical contact and disciplinary actions.
Of those 200, around 35 are visible decisions where an action is taken (fouls, restarts), and 165 are non-visible, where play is allowed to continue.
“By definition, you make a decision and one team is happy, the other team isn’t, and so are their supporters,” he said.
“All that you ask for is an understanding of the complexity of the job. You see week in, week out that referees make brilliant decisions.”
In total, refs make around five errors per game, meaning they are right 98 per cent of the time.
The number of decisions referees have to make has increased by around three per cent in each of the last two seasons, and that is only likely to go up in the coming years as discussion around rule changes intensifies.
Running the line…
Many supporters would struggle to give the name of a single linesman in the Premier League, but the outcome of a game can hinge on their decisions.
The assistant referee makes on average 50 decisions each game; 45 of these are pure offside judgements, with four of these resulting in offside flags. Their accuracy? Again, a staggering 98 per cent.
“At the Etihad on Sunday there was an offside decision on the equalising goal. People said it was a really tough call and the assistant referee (Stuart Burt) got it right.
“But because he got it right, the world moves on, and we focus on those they got wrong. We’re asking for an understanding.”
Keeping up with play…
Sir Alex Ferguson was handed a two-match touchline ban in 2009 for branding referee Alan Wiley “unfit” following a draw against Sunderland.
The refs weren’t too happy, and officials’ fitness regimes have been widely publicised since.
On average, referees run 11 to 12km each game, around the same as an average Premier League player.
Just like players, referees must prepare for the weekend games with a rigorous training regime. A typical week for referees includes a light recovery session the day after a game, and three days of intense sessions before the Saturday game, including weight training, high-intensity work and speed training.
Everything is monitored, reviewed and reported back to the officials, so the Premier League’s top refs can be at the top of their game each weekend.
As the game has changed over the last decade, so have the pressures on referees. Refs are making around 70 per cent more sprints now than they were eight seasons ago.