Mark Clattenburg says he had the respect of world class footballers such as Cristiano Ronaldo because he treated them just the same as anybody else.
Speaking on the latest episode of Paddy Power’s twice-weekly From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, the former Premier League referee – who worked in England’s top flight for 13 years – has taken charge of some of the best players in history but spoke to them all like Average Joe down the park.
Clatts reached the peak of his career when officiating the Champions League final and European Championships final in 2016, and Portugal legend Ronaldo was keen to show his appreciation after the final whistle in the latter.
“Being a referee, you had the best seat in the house because you see how good these players were,” said Clattenburg.
“I remember Thierry Henry and then Cristiano Ronaldo when he first came into the Premier League and we were like ‘f*ck me, how good are these?’
“But I was never star-struck because I was one of these referees where I actually treat them exactly the same as I would treat everybody else.
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“That’s why probably I had a warm relationship with a lot of the big players, especially with people like Cristiano Ronaldo.
The way he was at the end of the Euro 2016 final when he was trying to grab us [to offer congratulations before] going up for my medal. There was a lot of respect there.
“I treat a player exactly the same if he was in grassroots, amateur football or the top level.
I think the professional footballers like that.
“They didn’t like being talked down to and I probably was different [to other referees] that I never spoke to them in English because my Geordie accent was so bad – they didn’t even understand any word of my English.
“That probably went in my favour because they were like ‘fu*king hell, I may as well just agree with him because I don’t understand him’.
“In general, I had such a great relationship with them and when you have a good relationship with them on the pitch, they make your life so easy.”
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Clattenburg didn’t always have it easy, with players often trying to influence or intimidate him into making favourable decisions.
“You try not to let moaning players affect you, but probably when one gets snapped in a tackle and he’s holding his leg and he’s whinging at you, you’re more likely to say ‘you deserve everything you get, you f*cking whinging tw*t’,” admitted the 45-year-old.
“At the end of the day, you can protect players and you can look after players but some players who actually were just downright nasty to you – why would you protect them and look after them?
“The ones that were genuinely nice to you, you probably would look after – and it’s all walks of life isn’t it I suppose. If you get looked after and you’re treated well, then you are going to react differently.
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“But there was some players in particular, you just didn’t give the 50/50s. I remember young Alan Smith when he was coming through at Leeds. He was booked that many times because he was so nasty on the pitch – foul-mouthed and that.
“Then when he got older, he probably got less yellow cards because he’d got a bit wiser and started actually buttering the referees up.
“Then when he was buttering them up, he probably was getting away with the 50/50s when in the past, he wasn’t.
“I can remember one or two where they’d probably give us some verbals and when they went into a 50/50 ball they weren’t getting looked after by me, that was for sure.”
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