Question for those who follow soccer: has a referee EVER changed their mind after being lobbied by a player for a call they didn’t like? Like ever? Or is the aim just to “work the ref” for future advantageous calls?
— Dan Skinner (@danielrskinner) December 4, 2022
This is a great question.
What is the point of players coming to the referee and visibly demonstrating their disagreement if there is not going to be a change in the immediate call?
It has been a while since I’ve had a whistle on the field. I think I changed my mind and call less than half a dozen times over 3,000+ games due to player provided information at the point of a foul. And in each instance, it was the player who I thought had been fouled who had provided me the information that they weren’t fouled and I had misread a jostle and mud patch for a trip or a push.
Excluding those rare cases, what is the point?
There are a couple of points of the fouled player communicating with the referee.
The biggest one is to establish where the line of foul/no foul is for the day. Perhaps there was a similar play 8 minutes ago that wasn’t called. Getting feedback from the referee to the player that the previous instance was acknowledged but not called due to advantage, or that there was a meaningful difference in the two plays helps players calibrate their expectations for the rest of the match. Good players typically can match their aggression and risk taking behaviors to the local foul threshold pretty well so good players want to know where that threshold is.
Players want the referee to be consistent. Ideally the referee is consistent across and within matches, but within match consistency is critical. Player feedback tells the referee where players think the line of consistency lies. Sure, Red will want the line to be slightly tilted in their direction and Green will want it tilted towards them too, but the feedback helps the referee calibrate and maintain consistency.
Finally, soccer, and all other games are emotional. As a referee who is charged to facilitate a safe, fair game within the laws of the game, I would rather have a player get pissed at me, say their piece and then get back to playing aggressively but smartly than be frustrated and taking that frustration out on someone’s knee. Sure, at that point, I am punitive and pulling a red card, but the game is damaged if that was an avoidable incident and both teams are disappointed and pissed off because one team is playing down and the other team just had one of their knee’s wrecked.
I was a pretty good referee. I was lucky enough to work with some exceptional referees including several who are currently at the World Cup. They were almost as good at being a psychologist as they were athletes. Managing player-referee and referee-player interactions both after a foul and non-fouls is a key skill that when done well, dramatically increases the probability that a highly competitive game will be a good exhibition of skill, talent and luck that requires minimal referee intervention for the dumb-shit fouls that could have been managed out.