England have to keep their heads
There’s going to be a big difference in the officiating at the World Cup compared to the Premier League, and the England players need to be prepared for this.
Their first two games can’t be managed by European officials, so there’ll be a different style of referee to deal with.
Of course, every ref is briefed by FIFA, they’re given the same guidelines and approaches to take for all the new technology.
But every referee will have his usual style, based on their own confederation’s directives and approaches, which he will have followed all season, and will continue into the World Cup.
So England have to be wary, and not get frustrated if they’re getting penalised for every small free kick – and the video technology won’t help them, either, as it’s only for clear and obvious errors.
We’ve seen it in past tournaments when Peter Crouch was getting penalised for climbing, which really wound some of the players up, because that was his game.
There’s no point complaining, you just have to be smart and adapt where you can.
No hiding places this summer
In terms of individual players and their decision-making, there’s no hiding place for them. If you commit a violent act, it’s going to be picked up on – and not just retrospectively.
It’s going to affect that match, thanks to VAR.
So, more than ever before, discipline will be a key ingredient for whoever is going to win the World Cup.
There’s going to be no foul play that isn’t punished. Everything is geared toward fair play, and allowing referees to concentrate on managing the game.
Which is why, I think, VAR will come to the fore this summer. It’s had mixed reviews so far, but I think we’ll see its real value in Russia.
It’s for the betterment of the game. Some people say it takes away the drama or some of the scandal, but it absolutely doesn’t.
You’re still going to get moments like Luis Suarez biting an opponent, or Diego Maradonna punching a ball into the back of the net, but the technology will provide us with a consistent level of approach, and the right result for these decisions.Similarly, diving is now a huge risk. We saw Raheem Sterling do it in the warm-up match against Nigeria, but you just can’t be doing it this summer.
In the past, it would either be a penalty or nothing – yellow cards for diving were quite rare when it came to decisions in the penalty area. Now, though, there’s going to be absolutely no hiding place for anyone who simulates. The VAR gives refs the support they need for these incidents, and also means that it’s just not worth diving any more.
We won’t see any penalties given for a dive that aren’t overturned.
I’d have been gutted if England reached the final and I’d been reffing
Just as it is for players, for referees the World Cup is the pinnacle. You’ll have managed in Euros or the Champions League, but this tournament is for the best in the world – the best of the best.
Because this summer is going to be one of the closest World Cups – many teams can win it, I think – it’ll be one of the best tournaments for many years.
If I was refereeing in it, I’d be excited rather than nervous – but you do always want to get your first game out of the way. People often think that crowds influence referees and heap the pressure on, but that isn’t true – it’s not the external pressure that builds, it’s the internal pressure.
It’s the knowledge that, if you have a bad first game, you might not get another in the tournament.
Whereas, if you have a good game, you get a second match, and so on. You progress, as a referee, much as a nation does.
The other strange element of refereeing at an international tournament is the fact that, if you’re doing well, you’ll want to keep an eye on your own nation, and other teams from your confederation.
For instance, if a European team reaches the final, you can’t referee the game, for fairness, unless it’s two European teams – like it was when Howard Webb did the 2010 final.
And if England reach the final, you can’t ref the match at all. So, on one hand, as a fan, you’d be over the moon that England have got there. But, on the other, as a professional, you’d be gutted – World Cups don’t come around often, and the chance to reach a final would be the absolute pinnacle for any referee, so you’d have that weird contradiction of emotions.