Should referees be talking to players?
No doubt the off field management problems at Southampton has put their complaint about what referee Mark Clattenburg said to one of their players on the back burner for the time being. Although it has been thrown out by the FA, they have said they do not consider the matter to be over. ‘An official insulting a player, no matter his intention, is clearly not acceptable’. I would agree but let’s look at what Clattenburg is reported to have said. ‘You’re very different now since you played for England – you never used to be like this’. This came after a confrontation between Lallana and Clattenburg when he had rejected a Southampton penalty appeal. It seems more like an observation than an insult or abuse to me and obviously the FA saw little to get upset about
Some people are surprised that referees talk to players during the game. In fact they are encouraged to do so and like most referees Mark Clattenburg seeks regular on-field communication with players. Although there are the occasional jokes and laughter, we are not talking about chit chat but managing the players by talking to them. The referee obviously communicates with the whistle, they are told from the beginning ‘to make your whistle talk’. For example to blow louder and longer for a bad tackle, this lets all the players know he has seen it and didn’t like it. This can have the effect of avoiding players wanting to take things into their own hands because they know it is going to be dealt with
A referee also communicates with his arms and hands. For example if there is a tackle when players go down and they look up after the whistle, the referee with his arm out straight will often suppress any thought of dissent. Certain signals are mandatory and are illustrated in the Laws of the Game but it not just pointing the way of the free kick but the length it is held can make a difference. For example, when a penalty is given to keep the arm pointing at the penalty mark, makes the decision clear. Referees also use the psychology of the open hand. No pointing at players but getting them to keep away, go away, calm down, all done with the open hand.
Then of course there’s the voice. I’ve always been a greater talker to players, some of it very mundane. For example, when the ball goes over the touch line, as well as standing with my arm showing direction of the throw, I might also clarify it by shouting ‘red ball’ or whatever the case might be but I will almost certainly shout to the thrower telling him where the throw is to be taken, ‘Where you are please’. Then there is the quiet word, which no one else will hear or probably see. It might be something like, ‘watch the high feet when you tackle,’ after a player has gone in with high feet without any contact. A friendly warning if you like. I imagine Clattenburg’s observation to Lallana was meant to be something like this. Experienced referees will be able to spot when something is likely to happen, a player becoming frustrated perhaps or losing their temper so referees will try and speak to the player as a preventative measure. It doesn’t always work.
The referee also communicates is with his body language. The way he holds himself. This also shows when he is talking to players. Referees do not harangue players, shouting, waving their fingers at them. They are calm, polite but resolute. Their aim is not to insult players but simply to manage them in the best possible way and this means talking to them calmly, although obviously some are more sensitive than others.