A response to Mr Puhl’s interview

Available in Hungarian here

Firstly it was very nice to read an interview with Puhl Sándor last week on focibiro, it is something I’d like to see more often. Secondly, having read a few very snarky comments regarding the content of it I’d like to add my opinion into the mix. As a former referee and qualified referee coach, mentor and assessor I tend to have a different view on refereeing, especially when it comes to referee errors, than the average football fan.

The first part of the interview talks about why we never hear from the head of referees after an error or if the referee faces any consequences. Mr Puhl states that football is not about refereeing, they don’t want to push the referees into the spotlight and they have a responsibility to them. 

That’s fair enough and I do agree to a point. The referee committee do have a responsibility to the referees but if a serious error has occurred then they are already in the spotlight and being talked about so come out acknowledge publicly a mistake was made and back up your referee’s honesty and integrity at the time they made the wrong decision. Fans/players/managers always think it’s done out of spite or hate for their team or other such rubbish – reinforce that your referee made the decision they honestly believed was correct at the time on their split second viewing of it. Replays may well indicate they got the call wrong so remind everyone that referees do not have those replays available, remind them that the camera angle view of an incident is never what the referee sees.  Some decisions there is a valid reason for getting it wrong, it was on their blindside, a player ran into their line of vision at a crucial moment as examples and if something like that is relevant to the incident then say so. Humanise the referees, remind people that they are mere human beings, no-one expects 100% accuracy from players, it is unrealistic to demand that from referees.

On the flip side when managers, as far too many are want to do, come out and say the referee got this wrong, got that wrong and they are not actually errors then come out and say so publicly. Explain why it was a correct decision and that the manager is talking rubbish, ok you may need to word it a bit better than that, but point out the only error is the manager’s interpretation not the referees decision.  Not doing so leaves everyone thinking the manager was right in his view and reinforces the pathetic blame game played by the poorer tacticians out there who try to blame referees as a deflection away from their poor tactics.

They go onto discuss that a referee is dropped if they receive a 7.9 assessment, if possible.  I’m not sure I agree that happens, there was one referee in particular who had several games where he should have marked 7.9 or below yet still seemed to be out nearly every week. A different referee however was dropped for several weeks following 1 poor error so I am not convinced that the system is quite as fair as Mr Puhl and Mr Hanacsek seem to think it is and I would urge them to review it – behind closed doors to ensure that it is more fairly acted upon.  I agree with both of them that matters of discipline should remain behind closed doors, absolutely. We don’t get told if a player gets extra training or a fine for something they have or haven’t done on a pitch, unless it is a matter dealt with the disciplinary committee so why should we be told if a referee has been disciplined? 

Personally I do not feel the standard of refereeing has dropped, in the last season or 2.  I think it has been pretty steady. I will mention Erdős József as an example, 3/4 seasons ago he was not the best referee out there, he was a bit overweight and a bit slow, this led to poor positioning and a lot of silly errors, during the past 2 seasons in particular he has worked really hard, he has lost weight, improved his fitness and this in turn has improved his positioning and his decision making is so much better. He also seems much happier out on the pitch and has a renewed self confidence. I don’t wish to ridicule him by my first comments but rather celebrate and commend his hard work and the effort that he has put into improving. It really shows and he has become a very steady safe pair of hands, I have enjoyed watching him progress to where he is now.  We’ve not seen him yet this season but I hope he maintains what he has achieved over the past couple of seasons.

Mr Puhl set the big error level at 40 decisions.  I will take his word for that, I’m not going to sit down and rewatch 198 games and approximately 50,000 decisions to see if that figure is correct or not.  He is not talking about total errors, that would be a much higher figure but certainly for big calls that directly influence the outcome of a game (key match incidents – KMI) then I would guesstimate that to be fairly accurate. When taken alone it sounds awful but when put into the context of the amount of decisions made it’s a reasonable number. Every game a referee will make anywhere between 200-300 decisions. There are plenty of independent available stats to back this up as an average, the prozone stats for the Premier League being one good source. Overall referee accuracy levels tend to hover at around 93-97% accuracy, contrast that to players who tend to have 65-80% accuracy. No referee wants to make a KMI error, the same as no striker wants to blast over the bar from 3 feet out in front of an open goal, no goalkeeper wants to watch a ball trickle by him at a snails pace because he has committed himself to dive the wrong way etc. It is easier though to ignore those errors and instead focus on the 1 poor call out of 250 made by the referee. 

How many who have read this far remember the absolute sublime advantage played by Bogár Gergő in the lead up to Nikolics goal for MOL Fehérvár on week 1 the season? An outstanding piece of refereeing, very mature decision, many would have blown for the foul but he held off the whistle, indicated an advantage and had his whistle ready to bring back play if no advantage ensued – it did, Nikolic scored as a direct result of that call. Fantastic – yet that will be forgotten because he may well have let someone take a throw in from 3 feet further upfield than they should have – why? It’s all about perspective.

The final topic was regarding big changes coming.  5-6 referees leaving the list this season to be replaced by younger referees.  I could be critical here and say about time and if we had done this a few seasons ago we would not be in the position we are in now with no elite FIFA referee and no prospect of one for probably 5 years or so. That achieves nothing though, it is easy to criticise from the side lines and I would rather support the efforts to put things right now.  My biggest problem with it is actually my personal favourite referee, Solymosi Péter is our oldest referee and I don’t want him to retire, either by choice or by being put out to pasture! That is going to break my heart…

Just looking though at the referees we currently have and those coming through, there are 16 referees doing NBI matches across this season and last season, including 5 who have debuted in the past 18 months or so.

Our current FIFA referees are Bognár Tamás (42 in Nov) and Vad II István (41) in the first group. Farkas Ádám (38) in the 2nd Group and Berke Balázs (36) and Karakó Ferenc in the 3rd group.  It has been confirmed that Bogár Gergő will join the list from January and go into the 3rd Group.  He has recently made his International debut ahead of officially being added to the list and had a fantastic game. Berke made his UCL debut this season and has performed exceptionally well in 2 qualifying matches so far, Karakó performed well in his UCL game. Farkas Ádám, style of refereeing is very suited to Europe. 

I would love to see Mr Puhl take a very bold step when he formally does the nominations in October for inclusion on the new list in January.  In addition to adding Bogár, who I think is a future elite referee, I’d like to see both Csonka Bence and Pillók Ádám put forward as well. To do that we would need to remove 2 referees – my choice would be Vad II and Karakó. Vad has not refereed much during the past couple of seasons and I wonder if he has a recurring injury problem. He’s exceptionally fit but lacks consistency. Karakó is unlikely to progress beyond Group 3. Berke has a better chance of progression, at 36 he could still just make the elite list but only if he is promoted to Group 2 from January. Farkas is potentially good enough for group 1. Bognár is clearly ranked by UEFA as our top referee but he is too old for the elite list, UEFA don’t promote those over 40 due to them needing time to grow and mature ahead of major tournaments.  If we are not going to have an elite referee for 5 years then let’s flood the list with our youngsters and get them developing at International level now. With the young AR’s we already have on the FIFA list & a group of progressing young referees there could be exciting times ahead.

Of the non FIFA referees we have Solymosi Péter (48) who is still a solid referee, if we can keep him until May/June I’ll be a bit happier than him going in December. Iványi Zoltán (45 in December) who has some spells with injury/fitness issues but when on form is excellent. His man management is superb and both he & Mr Solymosi are the best in terms of playing advantages. Erdős József (43), Pintér Csaba (43 in October) and Andó-Szabó Sándor (42). I suspect they will be the 5 leaving the NBI list, possibly along with Vad II retiring through injury.

I would however keep these guys on as AARs only, for the next couple of seasons. Pair them up with one of the youngsters each and use them in a coaching/mentoring role with them. The youngsters would benefit from that and we don’t lose all that experience completely.  Train them as VARs ready for when that is introduced and have them transition into that role while our younger referees get used to refereeing matches with VAR. That might already be the plan but if not I hope it would be considered.

Incoming I would expect to see Csonka Bence & Pillók Ádám, who made their NBI debuts towards the end of 18/19 and are both establishing themselves very well. Csonka for me is ahead of Pillók in terms of development and could potentially challenge Bogár for the future elite position. Bogár though is 2 years ahead at least, in developmental terms and is a very naturally talented young referee. He is the Hungarian Michael Oliver in my opinion. Last season we had debuts from Antal Péter (34) who has a lovely style of refereeing, he is very calm, laid back & his man management is excellent. There is very little dissent his games because he quietly and calmly  discusses decisions with players and it always ends with smiles all round. At 34 already he is probably already too old to progress at FIFA level though but will be a good addition to the NBI. Káprály Mihály (30 in November) – I was delighted to see him debut, he had greatly impressed in the Magyar Kupa the season before and he is an exciting young referee to watch. Zierkelbach Péter (32) has made his NBI debut this season and had a very good debut match. There are a few other NBII refs who could well be close to debuting on the NBI – Hanyecz Bence, Molnár Attila as 2 examples.

I know I might get stick in certain quarters for this post, I’ve already had accusations my way that I’ve been bought off by Mr Puhl because I have refused to publish allegations against him without proof to back them up. For the record I have met Mr Puhl twice, once in 1995 and once in 1996, both times he was referee at Wembley and I was security staff there. In 1995 I was assigned to the referee team, he recognised me the following year and made a point of saying hello. 25 years on I very much doubt he would recognise me now!  I will criticise if there is cause to and there is proof to back it up but equally I will agree if I genuinely do so.

My final word on this – I hope that Solymosi Péter will retire on his 324th NBI game, having set a new appearances record and not before! Sorry Mr Kassai!