Mark Clattenburg insists he’s going nowhere after rumors concerning the referee’s future in Saudi Arabia
LONDON: Mark Clattenburg has dismissed reports that he is about to be replaced by Italy’s Pierluigi Collina as the head of refereeing at the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF).
The English official gave up a potential chance to officiate at this summer’s World Cup in order to move to Saudi Arabia in February last year at the invitation of the federation.
Reports in the region’s media suggested that the SAFF, while satisfied with Clattenburg’s efforts in general since his arrival, felt that the Englishman could have done more to introduce the kind of referee training sessions that are used at the top of the European game.
Charged with raising standards in the country, Clattenburg is preparing for the new Saudi Pro League season that kicks-off on Thursday and insisted that he is paying little attention to what is being said in the press.
“I am under contract to improve the standards of referees in Saudi Arabia, referee and to provide the best match officials around the world to referee every match in the Saudi Pro League,” Clattenburg told Arab News.
There is still plenty of work for the experienced 43-year-old, a former English Premier League and FIFA referee who took charge of the 2016 UEFA Champions League final and the 2012 Olympic men’s final.
As part of plans to modernize the Saudi Pro League, which has ambitions to become one of the leading domestic tournaments in the world, the SAFF wanted to improve standards in all areas on and off the pitch. That is especially true for the coming season.
“I am introducing VAR (Video Assistant Referee) for every match in the Saudi Pro League ,” Clattenburg, who followed in the footsteps of fellow English referee Howard Webb in heading to Saudi Arabia, added.
“My team and I are ready for the new season ahead. I will be refereeing a match this week in the Saudi Pro League.”
Officials at the SAFF declined to comment on whether Collina had been contacted when invited to do so by Arab News.
The bald-headed Italian is perhaps the most recognizable referee of recent times and was named Serie A’s ‘Referee of the Year’ on seven occasions from 1997 to 2005.
Collina left his post as head of the refereeing department at the Football Federation of Ukraine in 2017 after seven years in the job following complaints that he did not spend enough time in the country.
Clattenburg, who sometimes appears on English television as a match analyst, made headlines last season in the King’s Cup Final in one of the most high-profile uses of VAR in Asian football to date.
The referee reviewed a wrongly-disallowed goal in the first period of extra-time between Al-Ittihad and Al-Faisaly to give Ittihad the goal. The Jeddah giants went on to win 3-1 and lift the trophy.
Clattenburg was also praised earlier in the King’s Cup competition for pausing the game between Al-Feiha and Al-Fateh to allow the players to answer the call to prayer as the game entered extra-time.
It is not just the area of refereeing that SAFF is looking to improve. In May, plans were announced to build the Saudi Pro League into one of the leading domestic tournaments in the world by 2020.
This involves a number of measures as announced by the General Sports Authority, the body that runs sports in the country. There is a proposal to privatize professional clubs as soon as is practical and improve facilities for the media.
As part of the modernization plan, finances of clubs will be more transparent and they will only be allowed to spend 70 percent of revenue on transfer fees and salaries. Not only that, squad sizes have been reduced from 33 to 28 and while the number of foreign players that clubs have been allowed to sign has increased to eight, there must be five local players aged 23 or under included in the roster.