BEHIND THE WHISTLE WITH MARK HALSEY: BETDAQ World Cup Ambassador and ex-Premier League referee Mark Halsey discusses the possible approaches taken by referees during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and includes his thoughts on the way Premier League officials are implementing VAR.
EUROPEAN APPROACH TO REFEREEING TRUMPS THE PREMIER LEAGUE
The inconsistency with VAR in the Premier League, which is frustrating everybody, comes down to the leadership and direction, and the training and education, of the management. In the Champions League under UEFA you can see a clear direction they want to take. Every country should adhere to the IFAB protocol of VAR – minimum interference, maximum benefit. Only get involved when it’s a clear and obvious error.
You see every weekend in the Premier League when they get involved, and it’s not a clear and obvious error, there’s just no leadership or direction. However, when we go into the Champions League, we will see clear leadership and direction regarding the protocol. The disappointing thing for me is England have no VAR officials in the World Cup, the only major league in Europe not to – that tells you everything you need to know about how VAR is being operated in the Premier League!
I think we have a strong abundance of European referees, including our top two Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor, who I’m hoping have a successful tournament. The problem that we’ve been seeing, especially in the Premier League, is the amount of time it takes to get to that factual decision. The new semi-automated offside technology in the World Cup should enable the game to flow quicker, I think it will be a plus for the tournament – fans don’t want to be waiting three or four minutes to see if calls are offside or not, so it should bring the timescale down really quickly. If it goes well in the World Cup then we should see it in all the leagues that use VAR next season, including the Premier League.
DISSENT A PROBLEM IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE BUT LESS SO ELSEWHERE
In the Champions League we see much better behaviour from managers and players to referees, because the referees don’t mess about – they’ve got that clear leadership and direction from the referees’ committee. We’ve definitely got a problem with dissent in England, we have to stamp out when a player runs at a referee and when they’re in your face. I don’t think we’ll see much of it in the World Cup – if we do then a yellow card will come straight out.
I think England have got to be careful in the World Cup with not giving the referee a decision to make – stay on your feet, don’t dive in, don’t get involved with the official! They’ve got to be careful with their challenges – we don’t know yet about what World Cup referees perceive as a red card challenge, they could be tightening up.
Nations from each continent will know their own referees, so they’ll know how far they can go with them, every team will do their homework. We saw in the Euros last year that referees were sending people off for those types of challenges where you catch someone on the ankle, so they’ll need to be careful with the speed and intensity of the challenge.
ENGAGE WITH THE PLAYERS TO EARN RESPECT
As a World Cup referee, you have to always engage with the players. If you look at the field of play, that’s the shop floor – yes there’s some industrial language, but it goes on in the shop floor, it happens! Players will do what they can to get what they can out of the referee.
To referee at the highest level you’ve got to be mentally tough and mentally strong, and you’ve got to give as good as you get. That’s how you get the respect from the players, people think you just go out on the field of play and command respect, but that’s not how it works. The respect comes with how you talk to and manage the players, that’s how you get that rapport and that’s how they come to respect you. If you have that, then a lot of the games are a walk in the park.
The refereeing process is ruthless and World Cup referees are accountable for their performance. If any referee has an indifferent game or is perceived to have a bad performance, they won’t get another game, they’ll be on the plane home. It’s cut-throat, and every referee will want to have good performances. They’ll work and train hard, watching what they eat and what they drink. They’re full-time professionals.
ENGLAND NEED TOGETHERNESS TO SUCCEED
Succeeding at the World Cup is about the work ethic of the teams. I know Wales will give a massive account of themselves, we know that. It’s about working together as a team, you’ve got to work just as hard without the ball as you do with the ball, you need to put that work rate in. England definitely have the ability but Wales will have that work ethic and team spirit, and certainly have players who could hurt England.
England’s form leading up to the tournament has not been good. We have to be attacking – we can’t be defensive minded and we have to take risks. In my heart I want England to do it, but you’ve got to look at Brazil being the favourites. I’d like us to click together and bring that work ethic and pick the right team with an attacking formation – unlike what we did in the Euros final against Italy.
MY WORLD CUP PREDICTIONS
World Cup winner: I’d love England to do it but it’s going to be very tough, especially given their recent form. We’ve got to be attacking and play our best players! You’ve got France, Argentina, Brazil, Belgium, Spain, you can’t rule out Germany… But I’ll have to go for Brazil given the strength of their squad this year.
Golden Boot winner: There’s obviously Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Romelu Lukaku, but I’d like to see Harry Kane win it again. He’s just got to take his chance. Let’s hope he does it.
Player of the Tournament: For England, if Trent Alexander-Arnold is given a run in the team and he can get a few crosses into the box, there’s no-one better than him at that. But then there’s the usual suspects – Mbappe, Neymar, Pedri for Spain, Lionel Messi, Darwin Nunez… There’re some great players on show and I might need to wait a few games before making my pick!