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What do you call an Englishman at Euro 2016?   Mark Clattenburg

So went the latest variation about one of the oldest jokes in the book – the England national football team – yet there is in truth a lot to be learned from the North-East referee’s presence at The Stade de France in Paris on Sunday night, where he officiated Portugal’s 1-0 victory over hosts France.

Forty-one year-old Mark Clattenburg is a modern ref who already had Olympic Gold on his refereeing CV from officiating the Brazil-Mexico Final of the Olympics in London in 2012 before his historic treble of officiating the 2016 FA Cup Final, UEFA Champions League Final and the UEFA Euros Final in France.

  1. Firstly and, most importantly, is that Mark Clattenburg is a man from the greatest hotbed of soccer on Planet Football – Newcastle and the North-East of England.

Football is in his blood and a little known fact about him is he wanted to be a professional footballer like so many young men from the North-East and all over the world yet after unsuccessful trials at Millwall and York was steered into refereeing by a football teacher with forward-thinking vision.

To say Clattenburg has never looked back is a understatement as he has risen to the very top of the officiating profession in the 13 years since a debut running the line in the competitive local Northern League in 1993 has blossomed into being man in the middle of the glittering final of The Euros.

The latest continuation of a tradition of sporting and footballing excellence from the North-East is a connection that must not be overlooked and Clattenburg cites the example of an upbringing in tough Leagues in the North where players might be full of drink from the night before as crucial to his development as a man-manager of difficult players and situations.

This is like the ‘streetwise’ element missing from England at the last World Cup according to Captain Wayne Rooney and certainly again at The Euros where The Three Lions were accused of being a pampered Academy generation not able to withstand adversity against a tough Icelandic team.

Where was England’s backbone, heart, spirit and tough winning mentality when it mattered vs Iceland?

Geordies have a Spartan character who know whats what in the football world usually because they’ve been there and done it in major international tournaments with their country.

From the brothers Sir Bobby and Jack Charlton OBE before him who lifted the World Cup for England in 1966 to Sir Bobby Robson, who took England within a whisker of the 1990 World Cup Final and may have won it in 1986 had a Clattenburg-type been in charge when Diego Maradona punched the ball into the net, The Three Lions have never done anything without a Geordie or three around.

Think Euro 96 when England last hosted a major tournament & the goals of Alan Shearer & genius of Paul Gascoigne fired Terry Venable’s Three Lions to the brink of glory and an agonizing penalty KO.

Or six years previously in 1990 when the North-East playing trio of Peter Beardsley, Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle managed by Sir Bobby Robson led England to within a whisker of the Final.

Have England ever won a major tournament knock-out game without a Geordie in the team or managing it?

 

Indeed, the last England team to win a knock-out match in a major tournament was at The World Cup in 2006 contained yet another Geordie footballer in the starting line-up – Manchester United’s Michael Carrick, whose club-mate David Beckham scored the goal.

And after doing very little at the last World Cup and now latest ignominious Euros failure, another Geordie Andy Carroll’s goal against Sweden at The Euros in 2012 is looking pretty special and exactly the kind of Plan B England could have done with yet strangely players from Newcastle or playing for Newcastle are overlooked these days like Andros Townsend.

If the star pundits of The Euros, Slaven Bilic or Alan Shearer  had been England boss then a certain 6ft 4in Geordie striker would have at least been a Plan B option from the bench and rather than being bulllied by the Icelanders would have been doing the bullying as in evidence against France and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny for Bilic’s club West Ham.

 

2. Clattenburg’s rise to UEFA’s Top Ref makes a compelling case for a foreign player Premier League quotient

The argument that the England national team would be better if their was a limit on foreigner players in the Premier League is a theory backed up by the success of Mark Clattenburg.

The English Premier League, indeed all of The Football League is exclusively officiated by English and British officials so upcoming referees have untramelled early access to high levels of the game they love.

“It helped English refereeing. The clubs and people within football want experience but you can only get experience by refereeing football matches…My season comprised 50-55 matches with 30-35 as a referee plus assistant, European games etc….We get a huge number of matches throughout the season to get experience from whereas its difficult to get that from 20 matches a season and you’re only going to get to the very top from doing matches – but its from the (top level) environment and the stress levels that you learn.” Clattenburg says

English officials are not competing with the cream of experienced officials from Italy, France, Germany and Spain for positions in the refereeing fraternity at an early age or the top jobs so gain plenty of valuable experience in the real Leagues quicker plus fast-track access to the highest level.

Clattenburg didn’t sit on a refs Premier League subs bench watching the world’s best referee Pierluigi Collina strut his stuff, he was in the thick of the action at League Two, League One, Championship then Premier League level and ascended the ranks of important Leagues and occasions rapidly.

 

3. Clattenburg is a 21st Century Personality and Referee for the Modern World

Of course, in such a competitive, high-profile and unpredictable sport like modern-day football, Clattenburg like any referee of 300+ top level games hasn’t had a career free of controversy.

Indeed, he has had a career with its fair share of it on and off the pitch from the dismissed accusations of racism from a Chelsea – Man United match at Stamford Bridge in 2012 to the front page tabloid headlines he hit when he left a game before the post-match cooling-off curfew to attend an Ed Sheeran concert.

What sets Clattenburg apart – like Cristiano Ronaldo whom he officiated in both the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Euro 2016 Final – is his humility and willingness to learn from his mistakes, a constant theme in his discourse:

“I learned from that mistake and the best referees learn from their mistakes.” he says of SheeranGate

in direct contrast to the unfair public persona that he is arrogant or attention-seeking, even if most of the jibes on social media are in the spirit of fun.

The hilarious Celebrity Refs account on Twitter & Vine often highlights his physical gestures from penalty pointing to the stretcher gesture in the final on Sunday yet in a high-paced game in front of an increasingly massive television audience, these visual cues to both watching audience and also to his officiating assistants expertly gets the message across in the most direct way.

Body language and gestures are also crucial to transcending the language barriers found on the pitch between an English referee like Clattenburg and the global galaxy of stars he officiates in The Premier League and especially in The Champions League and Euros as a top figure on UEFA’s list.

4. Clattenburg is Ultra-Professional and Dedicated

A studious and first-class professional approach doing his research and homework, modelling other expert referees and incorporating their best features and methods without slavishly copying for example revered ex-English referee George Courtney as well as heeding the lessons and advice offered by his mentor Steve Bennett has made Clattenburg’s path to the top a swift one.

He promotes the virtues of teamwork and his reliance on his assistants and speaks of his refereeing career as making him a better person, learning from every experience and accepting criticism as a path to improvement. A fascinating insight into the reffing at the very highest level of the game can be found in this video from 34 mins onwards when Pierluigi Collina raises his game to another level:

Clattenburg’s stats from 2,774 meters of high speed running (14 to 20 km/h) and 999 meters of very high speed running (> 20 km/h) during The Final show that referees are athletes in their own right and a 98% correct-decision rate for Premier League referees is phenomenal, just a shame Clattenburg’s own team Newcastle, a team he cannot referee, seem to get that other 2%…

About the only decision he got wrong in The Euros final was not to award a free kick for Dimitri Payet’s hatchet challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo or even take further action with a card for what was a deliberate act to put Ronaldo out of the game.

This writer was surprised to see pundits defend the Frenchman as I played schoolboy football with a right-back who used to deal with tricky left-wingers in the same way and I wasn’t surprised to receive a “#KneeOnKnee Still getting away with it?” text during the final and the sooner such challenges are seen for what they are and eradicated the better.

The Future is Bright for Clattenburg – and England?

So far, Clattenburg’s World Cup experience has been limited to a 4th official role in a 2010 Qualifying Game yet along with England, he’ll already have his sights set on playing an important role in the World Cup in Russia in 2018.

If the FA and England’s players, coaches and staff look at the approach of Mark Clattenburg, heed the lessons he has learned and puts into constant practice to continually improve himself  and his performance and put in a 21st century manager with a similar switched-on and on-the-ball attitude then The Three Lions can significantly raise their game. Such a man is Alan Shearer.

One of Clattenburg’s best decisions to date was awarding this penalty in Alan Shearer’s testimonial allowing the Geordie Legend to come on and cap his curtain-raising testimonial game with a typically-dispatched winning penalty in front of The Gallowgate.

If there is anyone with similar sense of timing and knowledge for what the big occasion demands in The Football Association they will appoint Shearer as England boss and we’ll be celebrating more than just having the world’s best referee at Russia 2018. Bravo, Mark Clattenburg.

 


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