Last week, we got a sense from Dr. Joe Machnik, soccer rules and officiating analyst for Fox Sports, about what the biggest challenges are in today’s game for a referee at the professional level.
But what about the youth game?
Fox News Latino spoke to George Klein, a 10-year-veteran ref with experience ranging from U23, high school, travel and U7 recreational-league soccer. While there are different types of concerns at the youth and pro levels, the officiating can be just as challenging.
Fox News Latino: Do parents and coaches know how to enforce rules at this level?
George Klein: Here are two examples.
One, pushing. Not that pushing should be part of the game, but I equate it with speeding. If the speed limit is 35mph and you are going 39, are you speeding? Yes. Is the cop likely to give you a ticket? No. So it’s only when it becomes excessive.
People think all pushing should be called, but if that was the case, there would be constant blowing of the whistle.
Two, handballs. People think anytime the ball and hands touch one another, it’s a handball. It’s not. It could be a bad field and the ball takes a bad bounce. When the ball plays the hand, it is not a handball. It is when the hand plays the ball. It’s all interpretation of the rules
FNL: What are the factors that affect your decision-making during a game?
GK: Did you ever hear of Law 18? Law 18 is the law of common sense. If its 6-0 and there is a handball in the box, I may wave it off. I’m not calling it. If the keeper has one hand outside the box, I’ll tell the keeper, ‘Watch your hands, next time I’ll have to call it.’ If it’s 2 or 3 feet [outside the box], I have no choice.
FNL: What kind of rapport do you have with the younger players?
GK: A ref has to do his/her homework. I show up early, they see me checking the nets. I show up with duct tape and make sure the goals are secure. I look up the teams records ahead of time, so I know what to expect.
I try to show the kids I respect them. I call the boys “sir” and girls “ladies.” I’ll look the coaches in the eye. I’m properly dressed. If I feel I ever get it wrong, I’ll apologize.
At a very young level, after a great save, I’ll say, ‘Goalkeeper, give me a high five.’ Am I supposed to do that? As a professional, no. But sometimes I’ll tie the goalkeepers shoes cause they can’t with their gloves on. The kids need to see authority and respect go hand in hand. I take charge, and I take command. But I always try to be polite.
FNL: I guess you have lots of experience dealing with crazy parents or coaches?
GK: I don’t see it too much. The ref is causing it too, sometimes.
Some parents have way too high hopes for their kids who have limited abilities. In the rec game, you have a combination of travel players and kids that are just picking daisies. And the coaches take it like it is Game 7 of the World Series or the World Cup. Not all, but there are some of them.
The ref has to put his foot down early when the coach begins running his mouth because parents and older players will feed off of that. If the referee doesn’t punish the coach, that makes it harder for the next referee, cause they get away with it.
FNL: What is the best part of being a referee?
GK: When the losing team or losing parents say nice game ref. Or I’ll be at a restaurant and someone will say, ‘Oh, you’re the referee’ and I’ll think, ‘Oh, no. You remember me,’ and they’ll say, ‘You were nice to the kids. My player liked you.’ That is nice.”
FNL: And the worst part?
GK: I don’t know. I have two games today. That’ll make it my 19th and 20th games this week. My assigner has me mentoring two young referees. I’m getting paid to exercise. I’m learning about myself. I don’t have a worst part.
As we were concluding, Klein aptly summed up in one thought: “My greatest wish is that coaches and parents can referee one time … where teams have identical records and it is the tenth and final game of the season. I want them to referee that game. Just once. I want them in the referee’s shoes to see what it is like. Because as you’re processing all that information and trying to make a decision, in the next second or two, so much has happened.”
There are good refs and bad ones. But as I tell my team, the ref is doing his best. You will get good calls and bad calls. Trust that they are doing a tough job and know that that is part of the game. Respect the referee, and they will respect you.
So before you open your mouth to complain about a call, put yourself in their shoes. Just once.
Video of the week
If you’re struggling to get the ball to do what you want, maybe talk to César Martínez of the Venezuelan Zamora club.
From the wires
Spain's main soccer league is fighting back against the commercial domination of England's Premier League and is embarking on an aggressive international drive to introduce its top stars and traditional clubs to a greater audience.
La Liga has the two best players in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It also has two of the top clubs in Real Madrid and Barcelona. Now it's trying to find new ways to capitalize on the stardom and keep pace with the growing global appeal of the Premier League.
Spanish league president Javier Tebas fears that the spending power of club owners in England could see them buy up all the world's top players.
"We run the risk of having the Premier League become the NBA of football in the next five years, with the rest of European leagues turning into secondary tournaments," Tebas said.
"We all know that every talented basketball player discovered anywhere in the world ends up going to the NBA, and if the European football industry and the Spanish football industry don't react, we will also be losing talented football players."
The Spanish league is doing what it can, from demanding UEFA look closely into the sources of money behind the English teams, to finding its own revenue to be able to compete.
The Spanish league is opening new offices abroad, including in the rapidly growing markets of China and the United States, with its rapidly growing Spanish-speaking population.
"The U.S. is really crucial for our strategy," La Liga's general director, Ignacio Martinez Trujillo, told the Associated Press. "Soccer is going through a revolution there. The market is growing fast and we want to take advantage of this opportunity to do business there."
The league also recently created an ambassador program in which it will use former stars to help reinforce La Liga's presence abroad. Former Real Madrid stars Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos are among the ambassadors.
"We've been creating the tools to be able to compete with the Premier League financially," Tebas said. "Our clubs need to know that their league is making the investments that will help them keep their talents."
The league is trying to add value to its product and improve how it's delivered to fans. It aims to create better audiovisual packages to broadcasters and improve the fan experience.
The league announced this week that the Copa del Rey will be available through pay-per-view on YouTube this season, and it is launching fan-fest sites to bring together Spanish football enthusiasts around the world, with the first one being deployed in Qatar.
"There is no doubt we have the most important clubs and the most important players, people know that," Trujillo said. "Maybe we need to improve the way we communicate about our product, the way we deliver it, but regarding the competition, there is no doubt that we are the most important league."
Tebas took over as La Liga president in 2013 and helped reduce the clubs' collective debt from about 700 million euros ($775 million) to just more than 300 million euros ($331 million). He also negotiated new television deals that more adequately represented the importance of its top clubs and players.
Spanish clubs had been negotiating television rights individually, so the league bought back the rights and renegotiated them at a much higher price, going from about 800 million euros in total ($885 million) to nearly 1.2 billion euros ($1.3 billion). Tebas said he expects the 2017 deal to reach $1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion), which is still far less on an annualized basis than the nearly 7 billion euros ($8 billion) that the Premier League clubs are receiving on their three-year deal.
Tebas has started working to redistribute the television revenue more evenly to try to benefit the smaller teams. The hope is to give them a better chance to compete with the powerhouses of Barcelona and Real Madrid, which have long maintained a rarely-interrupted duopoly in the title race.
Closer competition and a more entertaining product is also a key to rivalling the Premier League, which has a broader spread of contenders.
Part of the reason the Premier League is a step ahead is because England's pay TV market is much more developed than in Spain, which allows clubs to reach a lot more people and negotiate better TV deals. Tebas said England has about 10 million more subscribers than Spain.
La Liga has a potentially bigger problem going forward as a result of Spain's recent push to crack down on tax irregularities involving players, including top stars such as Messi, who will likely stand trial on three counts of tax fraud. Neymar, Barcelona teammate Javier Mascherano and former Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso also have been targeted by investigations which eventually could turn some players away.
Tebas said the league has to accept it might not be able to count on the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, and that makes reform more urgent.
"It's crucial we help our teams keep their talents," Tebas said. "If we can't do that, we will continue to see the Premier League increase its dominance."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.