Law 12 : Is Mike Dean the only referee with balls?

in Opinion


Mike Dean aka the Gesticulation Guru, the Wirral Waver, the Big Deal in Body Language and general self-appointed centre of the football universe has come in for heavy criticism recently over his officiating.

Usually Dean is deserving of criticism, though some would say he is an easy target as he dances across Premier League pitches on the winds of self-importance, thrusting himself centre stage at every given opportunity.

But following his most recent denigration, when he awarded what looked like a series of super soft penalties, I decided to read the FA’s amendments to Law 12 and it turns out, Mike Dean was correct and we were all completely wrong.

Now that I have emptied the sick from my mouth, I will explain why.

Law 12 states: “A direct free-kick or penalty is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences… holds an opponent, impedes an opponent with contact…”

If that still seems a little grey and open to interpretation, then I’ll detail the directive that was presented by the FA to every Premier League club in pre-season:

FA Directive

Holding in the penalty area

Key principle: Physical contact is an acceptable part of football

Consideration used by match officials (when an act of holding identified):

– Players who only focus on their opponent and pay no attention to the ball before holding an opponent run a high risk of being penalised

– Players who clearly hold an opponent by pulling their shirt, or extend their arm to pull back an opponent run the risk of being penalised.

– Where holding is sustained and clearly prevents an opponent from making a movement it is likely to be penalised.


Mike Dean’s first penalty decision this weekend, awarded to Man City when Ryan Shawcross grabbed a chunk of Nicolas Otamendi’s shirt while defending a corner was clear cut and blatant. No argument there.

The second penalty of that game, when Raheem Sterling was adjudged to have impeded Shawcross’ efforts to get free in the box caused far more outrage on Twitter and in my sitting room (ahem). Sterling appeared to lay hands on Shawcross but the contact seemed minimal and only slightly hindered Shawcross’ back post run. But the first point of the new directive clearly shows that Mike Dean was 100% correct to award the penalty.

“Players who only focus on their opponent and pay no attention to the ball before holding an opponent run a high risk of being penalised”

That is exactly what Sterling did. His focus was completely on Shawcross and he made enough contact to impede his run. The new directive might be a little flawed, but Dean adhered to the rule change without omission.

Dean’s decision to award Crystal Palace a penalty when Christian Benteke’s shirt was grabbed by Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels was also entirely the correct call.

So it seems the under-fire Ostentatious Officiator was right all along, it begs the question: why haven’t his colleagues followed suit?

You could pick out incidents of shirt pulling, run impeding and player watching in almost every Premier League game since the new season kicked-off, yet Mike Dean has been the only referee brave enough to fully enforce the FA’s new directive thus far.

During Tottenham’s draw at home to Liverpool, referee Robert Madley spotted Jan Vertongen hauling Joel Matip down in the box just before a corner came in. Madley told Vertongen to “cut it out” and the corner was retaken with no further problems. On first appraisal, you would have to question Madley’s handling of the incident. Why didn’t he just let it play out in real time and award the penalty to Liverpool? Jurgen Klopp seemed aghast after the game and felt like Liverpool were a little hard done by.

But according to the FA, referees have been encouraged to speak with players before a set-piece is taken to try to avoid that kind of situation occurring. This was also detailed to all Premier League clubs before the season started.

Klopp’s criticism of Madley, which followed hot on the heels of Mark Hughes and Pep Guardiola’s criticism of Mike Dean seems entirely misdirected and downright idiotic when all things are considered. It shows an apparent ignorance of what were clear rule changes before the season started.  It also shows a lack of appreciation for the work put in by those graphic design interns at the FA who probably whipped up those lovely presentation slides. Won’t somebody think of the graphic design interns?

In reality, I guess having a pop at a referee’s decision allows you to shift a little of the blame from yourself and your players. Ryan Shawcross said he had made a silly mistake “having known what’s been said in the summer after meeting the refs”. It would be nice if managers started to apportion blame in the correct direction too, instead of feigning nescience.

Manager’s quibbles about the lack of refereeing consistency are complaints you could have zero complaints about, but now that Dean has set the example (more sick in mouth), the rest of the Premier League referees must have the courage to enforce these new rules. If that means seeing 2 or 3 penalties a game awarded for a month or so then so be it.

Mr Dean should keep brandishing his cards with exuberance, because right now, the Aloof Arbiter has never been more correct.

by Simon Winter

Twitter: @SimonJWinter