Beware! Refs are under FIFA orders to block the blockers

By Mark Clattenburg



dmg media (UK)

World Cup 2022

NINE of England’s 12 goals at the 2018 World Cup came from setpieces, but Gareth Southgate’s side better beware: blocking will be targeted by officials at this tournament. Last week I sat in on a pre-World Cup video session with Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of FIFA’s referees committee. One clip that Collina showed us was Harry Maguire’s headed opener in a 5-0 win over Albania in the World Cup qualifying. At the time, that goal stood. At this World Cup, it wouldn’t. England’s central defender only had a free header because Kalvin Phillips blocked Maguire’s marker when the cross came in. It’s a sneaky tactic – one which has been in use in European football for years. Before refereeing the 2015 Champions League semifinal second leg between Bayern Munich and Barcelona, I watched the first leg six times in preparation. Bayern’s Thiago Alcantara would stand in an offside position at set-pieces, purely with the purpose of blocking the path of Barcelona’s Gerard Pique. That’s why it’s important that referees do their research before a game. This was a clear tactic by Bayern and one I ensured wasn’t allowed in that Champions League clash. Now it won’t be allowed at this World Cup. The extent of VAR’s involvement will be interesting. In the Premier League, referees have become too reliant on their Stockley Park safety net. But Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s director of refereeing, and Collina want the referees making decisions for themselves at this World Cup. I expect to see more on-field decisions than off-field ones. Ready to see what FIFA’s semiautomated offside technology looks like? It isn’t flawless or factual. It is still subjective and takes a human touch to work. When the technology detects an offside and sends an image to the VARs, for example, they will still need to validate it. Nevertheless, this World Cup will make for intriguing viewing of a system that could be coming to the Premier League in the near future. Insert your own Christmas present joke here: Brazil’s Raphael Claus will take charge of England v Iran tomorrow. Claus isn’t as experienced as others in the list of 36 at this World Cup. This is his first tournament of this magnitude and, given he’s 43, it could be his last. England and Iran fans will be watching him closely!