Being a soccer referee has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. Congress may have a higher approval rating.
If you’re lucky, no one notices you. If you’re unlucky, upwards of 50,000 scream your name with a bloody look in their eyes.
And it’s not just the fans. Scenes of players surrounding and screaming at the ref are common. Every decision is scrutinized and attacked. And not just in the stadium, but potentially by millions of viewers around the globe.
Before anyone berates a referee, they really need to educate themselves on what it takes to the job.
Fox News Latino spoke to Dr. Joe Machnik, an assistant coach with the U.S. men’s national team during the 1990 World Cup, a FIFA/CONCACAF match commissioner, a soccer analyst for Fox Sports and the founder of No. 1 Soccer Camps.
Fox News Latino: What are the major challenges for a ref in the modern game?
Joe Machnik: They way the game has changed, the increase of speed in the players, the size of the players, the increase of quality in the equipment – especially the ball – where the modern player can now deliver accurately 50, 60 yard passes which can put the referee in the position of being caught behind the play very quickly.
So the biggest challenge is to be prepared, understand the teams’ system of play, to read the game, to be in the right place at the right time to get the right angle, to make the right decision.
FNL: What role does fitness play for refs?
JM: At the highest level, referees are monitored as to the fitness and training during the course of the week. Organizations bring them in once a month or even every 2 weeks to measure their fitness. At the International tournaments, they all need to pass stringent fitness tests in order to participate.
FNL: Do refs get respect from players and coaches?
JM: Officiating, not only in soccer, but in all sports, has changed dramatically because no longer is the referee given the benefit of the doubt. The fact that you have 9,10,11 cameras around the field that can dissect the referee’s decision and show … that maybe a decision is not correct.
FNL: Has the behavior of pro players toward the refs gotten worse?
JM: Yes, it has. There is so much more on the line. There is so much money involved in big time soccer. Especially when it comes to promotion and relegation, when it comes to playing in the first or second division. This is huge financially.
There is immense pressure on the referees that [officiate] these games. When a mistake has been made that drastically affects the outcome of the game, these are called ‘match-critical decisions’ – whether it is called goal or no goal, offside or not offside, yellow card or red card. The result of the match is sometimes decided by the referee, and that is part of the game.
He can make or not make the decision. He can be wrong by giving a penalty and just as wrong for not giving a penalty.”
FNL: Are refs under attack?
JM: It’s called “mass confrontation.” The referee can’t just go out when surrounded by 6 or 7 players and show all of them a red card, even if their language is foul or abusive.
This has to be controlled by the team, the league or the governing body of the competition. It’s a big issue in soccer and something that CONCACAF has to get a better grip on – as you saw in the most recent Gold Cup [in which various matches involving Mexico were determined by loudly disputed calls.]
The fines need to be heavy, not only on the players, but on the clubs as well. The club has to put pressure on the players not to behave in that fashion.
FNL: What’s the most rewarding part of being a ref?
JM: Not too many star players become referees, and that’s too bad – officiating extends your soccer life. All of them played at some level. There comes a time when you can’t play anymore at that level, and you still want to be on the field. And you can give something back to the game. There is a great deal of pride that a referee takes when a game is over, and both teams come over and say to him, ‘Really good job.’
FNL: Should fans read the rulebook?
JM: It’s amazing how little the fans are familiar with the rulebook – and not only fans, some players and some coaches, maybe even some broadcasters.
I feel fortunate that Fox has chosen me to help educate the fans. We can educate the fans by explaining what he or she was thinking about when they made that decision ... There are only 17 rules; there are 47 pages of the rules but 77 pages of interpretation.
So if you’re going to complain about a referee, familiarize yourself with the rules first. You can download them here.
Next week, we speak to a youth referee to get a sense of the challenges of officiating at lower levels.
Video of the week
Great training tip from the French U15 team. Oui, oui!!
From the wires
President Barack Obama welcomed the U.S. women's 2015 World Cup champion soccer team to the White House Tuesday, saying the team's victory with class, excitement and style inspired the whole country.
"They've inspired millions of girls to dream bigger and, by the way, inspired millions of boys to look at girls differently, which is just as important," Obama said.
The U.S. defeated Japan 5-2 during the final to collect the top prize in women's soccer for the first time in 16 years. Obama said his youngest daughter Sasha was able to cheer on the team when she attended the game with Vice President Joe Biden and his granddaughter Maisy.
"This team taught all America's children that playing like a girl means you're a badass," Obama said, to applause in the White House East Room. "Perhaps I shouldn't have used that phrase. Playing like a girl means being the best."
Obama singled out midfielder Carli Lloyd, who was named the tournament's most valuable player after scoring three goals in the final. He noted that Lloyd's title on Wikipedia was jokingly changed during the game to president of the United States, a job Obama said "is about to open up."
"What's another candidate in the mix," Obama said. Dinging the 2016 Republican presidential field, he added, "I guarantee Carli knows more about being president than some of the folks running."
Obama also lauded the team for launching the "She Believes" initiative to encourage young fans to believe in themselves. The team presented Obama with a soccer jersey that included his name and the number 44 on the back, before taking a selfie with the president.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.