The concept of 'celebrity refs' is a dangerous road for football to go down, and it doesn't help when top football journalists promote the concept while simultaneously decrying it.
Mike Dean was the main talking point after West Ham v Man United on Monday, not just because he made a couple of shocking decisions, but because he accompanied these mistakes with an incredible amount of sheer arrogance. Even the ordinarily beaming Niall Quinn lost it with Dean at one stage.
Mike Dean drives football fans crazy because, as the peerless Gareth Crooks nailed on 'Football Focus' earlier in the year, "he wants to be the star too often". As Henry Winter wrote in the 'Times' after the United game, it was the 'Mike Dean Show' at the London Stadium.
A referee shouldn't be the talking point after a game. And we shouldn't be encouraging any notion of the 'celebrity referee' - or else we'll end up with more Mike Deans believing that their ability to officiate a game of football somehow elevates them to a level equal to the players on the pitch. While being a referee is undoubtedly an extremely hard task - ten times more so in the Premier League - and anyone who successfully manages this plate-juggling feat should be acknowledged to a certain extent, the role of a referee essentially amounts to that of an invigilator in an exam. You're there to make sure the students have the proper environment in which to perform: a fair, balanced environment where wrongdoing is punished. Nothing more, nothing less.
That is why it is completely bizarre that Henry Winter, the chief football writer for the 'Times' and usually one of the best sportswriters around, has written an article decrying how Mark Clattenburg was overlooked for an honour in the Queen's annual New Year's Honours list.
We had to double check to make sure that it wasn't a parody article from Winter, who writes that it is "beyond comprehension" that Clattenburg wasn't included on the list. Winter's article follows on from a similarly odd (but more tongue-in-cheek) article in the 'Guardian' regarding transfer speculation about a potential move for Clattenburg to China, where Clattenburg even "remained coy" about a potential move. Winter writes:
The most successful Englishman in football at present is not Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana or James Milner...Dele Alli, Danny Rose or Harry Kane...it is Mark Clattenburg.
Winter says that "Clattenburg's athleticism has always been a feature of his game". Since when has a referee had a "game"? Shouldn't being fit just be a pre-requisite for a top referee? Being able to keep up with a game isn't like Romelu Lukaku's power, or Eden Hazard's skill, which are true "features" of each player's game.
(below: from earlier in the season)
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) November 6, 2016
Winter goes on:
In a world that rushes to instant judgment, and frequent vilification, Clattenburg looks at the abuse on social media, notes the splenetic, misspelt outpourings of the trolls, and goes back to the gym, goes back to grounds and focuses on controlling 22 often unruly, cynical professionals, many of whom earn more in a week than he does in a year.
Surely every single referee deserves praise for this? Clattenburg undoubtedly gets horrific abuse, abuse that is totally unacceptable. But so does every referee, manager or player involved in the game. And since when has the earnings of players versus the earnings of referees been an issue? Who the hell pays into a game to watch Mark Clattenburg?
Part of Winter's argument that Clattenburg isn't treated with "due respect" in England is pointing to how he wasn't chosen to referee an Everton game for five years after he made a howler of a decision in 2007 for not punishing this tackle by Dirk Kuyt on Phil Neville:
Firstly: who cares that he didn't referee Everton for five years? Is refereeing Everton some kind of privilege only afforded to referees as a sign of "respect"? Secondly: it maybe isn't a bad idea to keep 'Clatts' away from Everton and their passionate fans after he didn't punish Kuyt for a disgraceful tackle on Everton's club captain in their biggest game of the season against their fierce city rivals.
Referees deserve respect, of course. But the old adage that a good referee will finish a game unnoticed holds true. Like the groundsmen, the kitmen, those who work in the ticket office, club administrators and any similar role you might care to name, referees are mere facilitators of football. They allow the practitioners to display their skill to all those who love the game. Putting one particular referee up on some sort of pedestal is dangerous and misplaces the way in which they should be viewed, creating a dangerous precedent.
As one tweeter points out, it is indeed "odd" that "in two separate pieces" Winter "criticises Dean for being a celebrity ref but wants Clattenburg to be given an MBE".
If we look at a great Irish referee (albeit one who refereed our national games), Pat McEnaney, who was respected by players, managers and fans alike, we can observe the proper traits of the ideal referee: consistency, respect for players, common sense, a good level of fitness and - perhaps most importantly - a humility and appreciation of the referee's role within a game.
Mike Dean is an example of what happens when referees start getting ideas that they are somehow part of the theatre of football, part of the show. And football can't afford to have too many more Mike Deans.