Friday 9 March 2012

UCL: Strange Impressions of FIFA ARs and UEFA EARs

The following observations derived from the Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Arsenal and AC Milan on Tuesday 6 March 2012. The match finished 3—0, with AC Milan advancing to the quarterfinals 3—4 on aggregate.

The match officials, all from Slovenia, appeared to work well although aesthetically and by FIFA standards the actions and impressions given out by one of the Assistant Referees (AR1, SAR or whatever moniker is preferred) was inconsistent with the rest of the team of officials, and appeared odd and unprofessional.

Observation One AR1 Using Right Hand For Flag and Giving Obvious Hand Signal

AR1 is holding the flag in his right hand when running down the line towards the corner flag. This is non-standard technique and looks ugly. It looks ugly because a) it is inconsistent with the correct standard technique, as displayed by AR2, and b) there is jerky flag movement as AR1 runs.

Initially, I thought perhaps AR1 had something wrong with his left hand (an injury?), which could have explained why he was simply using his right hand all the time to hold the flag. However, had AR1 been injured this would have led to the next question about why he did not notify his Referee group and thus be replaced. It is doubtful that AR1 was injured.*

Observation Two EAR1 Actively Assisting and Giving Obvious Hand Signal

First, a tight Offside decision. Despite the likelihood that AR1 was not side-stepping, the decision to give the attacking side the benefit of the doubt is fine (if that is indeed what AR1 gave). Note: An observer can tell whether AR1 allowed this because we have seen that AR1 prefers to use obvious hand signals during onside situations (such as in Observation One and Six).

This attacking move by Arsenal (red) led immediately to the following situation ...

No offside given

Second, Arsenal's Robin van Persie (red) slides into AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati (orange). EAR1 reacts by raising his arms and giving an obvious signal to the Referee that it is a foul.
EAR1 is actively assisting the Referee

Observation Three AR2 and Standard Technique

Looking at AR2, there appears to be no outward problems.

Observation Four Penalty. Who called?

When required, EAR1 has actively assisted the Referee (as in Observation Two) but this time EAR1 does not do anything even though his position is nearest to where the foul was committed. Did the Referee make the call himself, with no assistance from his AR and EAR?

During the penalty kick, what is EAR1 doing? Can he see whether the goalkeeper is standing on the goal line, and moves off his goal line at the moment the ball is kicked? Is this the standard UEFA technique for EARs?

Observation Five Good Advantage, Fitness and Positioning

There is a foul in the middle of the park but Referee Skomina plays a good advantage.**

The advantage plays out with the Referee continuing his run into the penalty area and putting himself in a good position.

Observation Six AR1 Using Right Hand For Flag and Obvious Hand Signal

AR1 has two non-offside decisions to make in the following sequence:
AC Milan (black) not offside: phase 1

AC Milan (black) not offside: phase 2

Observation Seven R gives IFK?

We know AR1 regularly (and inexplicably) gives an obvious hand signal to indicate "no offside". Therefore, it is a puzzle why Referee Damir Skomina raised his arm to indicate an IFK. Why? It cannot be for offside since AR1 has not raised his flag.
Referee Skomina raises his arm. Does he indicate an IFK?

The Arsenal goalkeeper (grey) gained possession of the ball and carried on, so there was no stop in play. What was the Refereeing signalling?

Observation Eight Arsenal's Arsene Wenger Complains

Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger vents his frustration at AR1.**
The 4th Official (blue, left) tries unsuccessfully to stop Arsenal's Arsene Wenger (blue, right) from approaching AR1

*Note 1: Notice how at the end of the match AR1 is now holding the flag with his left hand. His left hand is therefore not injured.
Also notice the flag quality. The AR's flag handle does not appear to be a beep-buzzer type, so the match officials are probably all communicating with the Referee via CommLinks. However, the "magic" wands used by the EARs appear to be standard-issue beep-buzzer types. What's going on?
Look at AR1's Flag Handle

**Note 2: Arsene Wenger complained about the match officials. He said :
"I was not happy with the referee tonight because I felt he gave many free-kicks in the middle of the park. Every time they went down a free-kick was given for them, and they sensed that very quickly and they used it very well."

If there appears to be an advantage to play on, then the Referee appeared to give it (as in Observation Five). If not, then there is no problem to give a free kick. The Referee also played 3 minutes of stoppage time in the second half. There were 4 substitutions and 4 bookings in the second half, so at least 3 to 4 minutes of stoppage time is about right.

If all Arsene Wenger is 'unhappy' about is the time-wasting aspect of the match, then he doesn't have much to complain about. It is a natural part of the game, and if the situation were reversed his team would no doubt do all they could within the Laws to slow down the match. His Arsenal team played magnificently and had they scored the crucial fourth goal following the Referee's good advantage play (Observation Five), then perhaps Wenger would not be complaining.

No major problems. However, from a Referee Observer's view, the actions of AR1 and EAR1 appeared strange. Regarding AR1, such non-standard actions of FIFA match officials can be observed in all football confederations around the world. By being either disrespectful of the basic required standards, ignorant of the latest expectations passed on during UEFA- or FIFA-sponsored retreats, or just plain arrogant and complacent, these match officials do themselves, their colleagues and their Refereeing Departments a huge disservice.

This does not mean that coaches like Arsene Wenger can "have a go" at match officials like AR1 (as in Observation Eight). Nevertheless, AR1's non-standard techniques do not, and should not, excuse him from ignoring his professional responsibilities and image.

I will mention the actions of UEFA's EARs in a future post, since I do not believe there is a consensus amongst match officials (and within UEFA) about the responsibilities and performance of EARs.

This post has a Part 2 and a related comical post.

The match officials were :
Damir Skomina (SVN)
Assistant referees
Primož Arhar (SVN), Marko Stančin (SVN)
Fourth official
Mitja Žganec (SVN)
Additional assistant referees
Matej Jug (SVN), Slavko Vinčić (SVN)

Follow Up
UEFA Charge Arsene Wenger for improper conduct noting his complaints about the match officials.


  1. I agree with that, seemed strange, but of course, showing with the left hand that it is onside is pretty common (in Bundesliga they make it, too), but a bit exaggerated here.
    AAR1 was Vincic, not Jug, UEFA made it wrong, can ensure you that by 100%.

  2. Thank you Niclas. I really appreciate you sharing your expert observations about the Bundesliga here. For the "obvious hand signals", may I please ask whether ARs in the Bundesliga use their left or right hand for this? In some other countries I have seen ARs use their right hand to signal "play on" and "no offside", since they are carrying their flags in their left hands. Some Referees find this helpful, while others do not like it. It really depends on the understanding within the team.

    It is rare to see an AR use their left hand to point, right hand holding the flag and bending at the knees, all at the same time! It really looks ugly and also very comical.

  3. The style of AR1 seems to be common in Slovenia. During Norway Cup (Norwegian U13-19 tournament) a team from Slovenia was attending. The ARs used their left hand for the flag, having the flag towars the spectactors and not the field. They also used very strange arm signales for communications. It's quite strange to look at, as no other does that kind of things.

    I have seen some games with this team during the last year, and it's the same each time. Damir is quite good in my opinion, but the ARs doesnt look professional. Strange UEFA observers and the referee referee committee hasent pointed this out and demanded a change. The style of international referees shold be like, at least the way to handle the flag and communicate with body.

  4. Nathan of Perth21 March 2012 at 09:26

    I know the Australian regs say no additional signalling to indicate onside. There was a brief period where we flirted with using left hand for off-side and goal kick flag signals instead of right-hand but that ended pretty quickly.

  5. this style of holding the flag in the right hand is very common throughout europe and is not required to hold the flag in the left hand by many federations. While in your opinion this may not look very good, that is your opinion and it is the professional standard in many places. AR1 performed well, and while his style may not be the conventional style you are used to, it works and that is the most important thing.

  6. Thank you Nathan and Anons for your comments. In terms of gestures and flag technique, the standard interpretations advise "no obvious hand signals" and that "the flag must always be visible to the Referee, unfurled and still whilst running".

    Referee teams may add or modify this if they wish. As an observer, I noticed AR2 used the standard FIFA style for this match (Observation Three), whereas AR1 did not. AR2 is consistent with the FIFA standard, and AR1 is perhaps consistent with the "professional standard of his country or federation".

    But this is a UEFA Champions League match and the two ARs in the team were inconsistent with each other. This is why the title of this post is "Strange Impressions of FIFA ARs".