This week, Mike Dean threw a custard pie in his own face. He exposed himself by publicly confessing he failed to ask on-field referee Anthony Taylor to go to the pitch-side screen to correct a mistake in a Premier League game last season to spare him the embarrassment.
The first and only responsibility of a match official is to judge what is in front of them honestly and impartially, and Dean did not do that in letting free Spurs defender Cristian Romero for his hair tug on Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella in exchange for a quiet life for Taylor. With play permitted to continue, Harry Kane leveled for Spurs, and Dean was suspended for two months before retiring.
He was unprofessional in his acts, yet there is a larger point to his shady story that has gone virtually undetected. Why did Dean feel compelled to act in this manner? In any other sport, the TV official would have just done their job without regard for the consequences.
Football, on the other hand, is a unique – and extremely difficult – environment. It has an underlying cultural issue with referee respect. In essence, there is none. Or at least very little. Dean was attempting to shield his colleague from the volatility that now surrounds any challenging decision.
Taylor had already booked both managers, Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte, following a touchline brawl during the game. Dean realized that with tempers flaring, a trip to the monitor for the referee would be a wild ride. So he decided to save his pal the trouble. It was a poor move that he regrets, but it reflects the distorted society in which the officials live.
Last season, Leeds United manager Jesse March discussed why he was frequently booked by referees. He explained that when he felt the calls were not going in his favor, he would deliberately lash out at the official. He argued that his behavior was not instinctual; rather, it was a calculated strategy designed to compel the referee to balance the decision-making balances.
It obviously did not balance them well enough, as Marsch was fired and Leeds was relegated, but the concept was educational. Influencing the referee through intimidation and abuse is regarded as a legitimate technique in a manager’s arsenal.
Taylor was saved from the pitch-side monitor, which is a breeding ground for this type of mania. There’s a case to be made for hauling it down the tube and away from the technical area. Except that someone would probably chase the referee and scream in public instead.
The issue is not with the display but with the mentality. The start of the season this year was preceded by an announcement of a crackdown on disrespectful behavior toward authorities. Clubs were warned, and players and coaches were lectured on the expected improvement.
But, such is the scope of the problem, 18 yellow cards were issued to players and six to managers for dissent during the first two weekends of the Premier League.
What starts at the top of the mountain, like water, filters down. The end game in grassroots football is the habitual maltreatment of referees, which drives them out of the game. There is no game without a referee.
Tuchel, who, like Conte, was sent off at Stamford Bridge after an altercation at the handshake, requested after the game that Taylor never referee another Chelsea game, which resulted in a £20,000 punishment from the FA. The now-Bayern Munich manager implied Taylor was prejudiced, despite the fact that he had been underserved by his VAR.
Whatever conspiracy theorists at any club may believe, Premier League referees are not bent. They are, nevertheless, people. If football started treating them as such, rather than punchbags, terrible incidents like Dean’s would never happen.