FIFA confirmed on Thursday that there would be no British representation among the 99-strong list of referees and assistants for the impending World Cup in Russia.
19 refs have officiated Premier League matches so far this season; not one has made it to the sport’s showcase event.
The decision raised eyebrows and a multitude of questions.
Does this snub mean that Premier League officials simply are not good enough by international standards?
How embarrassing is it for English football that a league styled by many as ‘the best in the world’ will have no referees at the biggest show on earth, but MLS will provide two?
Why was the FA request to replace Mark Clattenburg, who left England for Saudi Arabia last year, with another candidate refused by FIFA?
The absence marks the first time that the UK has had precisely zero involvement in officiating since the troubled 1938 World Cup in France.
But while FIFA are on the outside looking in, plenty of those directly involved with the Premier League have criticised the standard of refereeing.
It will come as no surprise that Arsene Wenger is one of those.
People want crisp, sharp action and the referee has to make sure that happens. We don’t live in the dark ages.
Arsenal manager Wenger is never short of an opinion on officials and was particularly scathing after his side’s 1-1 draw against struggling West Brom earlier this year.
He said: “[Mike Dean] saw what he wanted to see and we have to deal with that.
“There is a shortage of referees and the system of promoting young ones doesn’t work. We should have a bigger league of referees and the guys who have a bad patch can go down to the second division and we promote young refs.”
The Gunners supremo was critical of the time taken by the referee to reach decisions during the match.
He said: “Come on, let’s not waste time. That is not the rhythm of a modern society. People want crisp, sharp action and the referee has to make sure that happens. We don’t live in the dark ages.”
Former professional ref Mark Halsey, writing in the Sun, agreed with Wenger and described the current crop of officials as the ‘poorest since Keith Hackett left as the head of referees in 2010’.
Halsey, who took charge of the 2008 League Cup Final, claims to have the stats that reportedly provide substance behind the harsh words – he has complied these into a ‘true’ Premier League table.
Another former ref, Jeff Winter, took expectation to the antics of Wenger and went on to explain the English officiating situation in an article for the Sun.
Winter, who was the man in the middle for the 2004 FA Cup Final, thought that the World Cup snub had roots in ‘short-sighted mismanagement by the refereeing overlords at both the FA and the PGMOL’.
Middlesbrough-born Winter was of the opinion that bureaucracy at the highest levels has stifled the progress of developing officials.
And it is not just British refs who get stick at every corner.
It happens in La Liga, traditionally seen as the major rival to the Premier League in terms of product, where giants Barcelona and Real Madrid have been vocal in their criticism this season.
In Serie A, verbal attacks on officials led to a plea from refereeing chief Marcello Nicchi last year to stop strong criticism lest it ‘hurt the image of Italian football’.
So the UK is not alone when it comes to this matter.
The incessant and harsh nature of the comments directed towards referees and their assistants will probably do little good to the prospects of developing new officials.
The results of a joint Sky Sports News and FA study released last month indicated that 91% of grassroots refs felt that a lack of respect at elite level encouraged similar behaviour in the games they officiated.
The criticism of fans, who now have the prism of social media at their disposal, and managers alike has led to a joint venture between the Premier League, FA and EFL that involved the hiring of a full-time counsellor.
With a 48-team World Cup on the horizon for 2022, the Premier League will surely be looking to involve at least one referee and assistant team, and may even opt to try for a few more.
The Scottish Premier League too will fancy its chances of getting in on the act.
A complete lack of British officials at the sport’s greatest event is not the death knell for UK refereeing at the international level – in fact, if those in charge have the foresight, it may spark some action and even prove to be the making for a new generation.
(Featured image: Euronews/Flickr)