Football Development Institute

Referees are always blamed


The introduction to the “FDI Concept” I open with the words: ” The world of football needs serious intellectual reform, leading to a complete change in perception, interpretation, solutions, mechanisms and attitudes within dozens of the most important areas of this game. Despite spreading the myth about a high stage of evolution, professional football in the broad context of intellectual, strategic, sports, organizational, football management, communication, marketing and financial layers has been reduced to the state of a primitive sport, hidden behind a mask of glitz, excellent infrastructure and flashy promotion.”

▶ Faces of primitivism

I could have taken a look at the various facets of the aforementioned primitivism in this article. This time I chose to focus on an aspect, containing a very bitter truth about human attitudes. An aspect that makes me angry. The thing concerns the attitude of club officials, coaches and players towards football referees.

The above-mentioned problem has a very long history, knowing no national borders and no distinction between leagues. It occurs everywhere. I chose an example from Germany, where I live on a daily basis. Here, the sad case involving referee Felix Zwayer became very public. The excellent arbiter was verbally attacked with incredible force during a Bundesliga match, and in writing afterwards. For what? For one alleged mistake he made during the 90 minutes. By whom? In the first place, by coaches and Borussia Dortmund players using a catalog of cheap excuses. A catalog created by the football environment. Meanwhile, the mentality under the name “Referees are always blamed” reveals unequivocally the human weakness and indolence in understanding football. In the football environment.

If someone can’t make a reflection, can’t see the disastrous state and quality of his team’s play (for which he is responsible), and looks for excuses from third parties, then…. sad news for his employers. Here are my facts to this variation of football primitivism:


Referees are, for 99.9% of matches, the best performers on the pitch. They make many decisions per second. And we should not confuse whistled or not whistled situations with global decisions made. This is only a slice of the overall action. The choice of positioning shifted one meter to the right or to the left, the selection of an acceleration in moving on the pitch or maintaining the current speed, and the direction of movement on the pitch are also decisions. The error rate in the context of all actions is not worth mentioning, it is in the range of statistical error. No team in the world can even come close to this level. FC Barcelona (2009) is the best team I’ve ever seen, but it too did not reach the quality of the referee’s work.


A football referee does not “win” or “lose” a game for any team. The referee does not even have the ability to influence the game. Football is, unfortunately, for many a very simple domain. And such simple mindset also occurs in it (the process of football degradation). If a referee decides to give a penalty kick, mistakenly interpreting the event, almost everyone says: this man is to blame for the defeat. But who failed to develop an offensive action in a structured way? Who lost the ball in this action? Who failed to recover the ball immediately after the ball was lost? Who failed to find a solution to interrupt the opponent’s attack in numerous sectors? Who failed to prevent the opponent from creating a chance? It was the defending team, after all, not the referee. In such situations we have to do with collective, multi-level misbehavior of the entire team, led and – in the optimal version – developed by the coaching staff. The referee reacts (or not) everywhere, all over the pitch, in every zone, in every sector. A whistle near the mid-line equals a whistle in the penalty area. However, the location of the referee’s intervention in the defensive phase itself is already determined by the specific defending team: through its way of playing, preparation for the match and level of play. The role of the film director should not be mixed with that of the spectator. The latter merely reacts.

The identical rule exists in the offensive phase. The team decides where on the pitch the referee “joins” the game. And under what circumstances. For example, an interrupted offensive action (offside) with the potential to create a chance under the opponent’s goal, which is very occasionally misjudged by the referees, has its source of confusion in chaotic and uncontrolled offensive actions.

Each alleged referee error has an extremely insignificant impact on the course of the game and its final result. Regardless of where on the pitch the misjudgment of events occurs. In every action – both defensive and offensive – teams perform dozens to hundreds of activities. During the 90 minutes we are talking about thousands of single actions. All of these behaviors have a positive or negative effect on the action just in progress, and then on the subsequent (derivative) actions and the subsequent (derivative) periods of the game. Tactically, physically and psychologically (mentally). According to the above, each team has thousands of opportunities during a match to bring its performance to a high level, to exert the needed influence on the on-field events, the course of the game and, ultimately, the result. No referee in the world is able, even rudimentary, to destroy the high quality of the team’s work. The referee’s decisions are also irrelevant in terms of their timing. If as early as the 1. minute against one of the teams a penalty kick is dictated or a goal is disallowed, there are still 89 minutes left to execute a high-quality plan. The same events happen in the last minute of a match, you should have used the preceding 89 minutes to ensure that the game ends in your favor.

It is they (Club officials, coaches and football players) who have collectively adopted the inventory of “modern football”, leading to a loss of control over their team, the course of pitch actions, as well as the opponent. Ergo, the “football environment” is fully responsible for the dramatic decrease in the quality of the team tactics (organization of team play), reducing the matter of tactics to an embarrassing format, and making the structural development of teams impossible. The conclusion is clear: the constantly out of control course of events on the pitch and the associated frustration is not the fault of any referee on the planet.

~ Marcin Gabor
CEO, author of the FDI concept


Listening from coaches or players – active in so-called professional football – to negative criticism about referees is completely absurd. After all, it is the level of football, based for years on ubiquitous trends with massive logical errors, that today is at a very low point. Football players individually are getting better, but the quality of the team’s tactical actions is consistently declining. For very concrete reasons. Among the Club executives, as well as among coaches and players in Europe, practically no one notices the unequivocal collapse of the playing level and the degradation of the team’s performance. No one wants to question the developmental directions of the last decade. For this, almost everyone is willing to justify their own indolence, which does not receive such status at all, with the quality of the referee’s work. My recommendation is: it is worth taking care of yourself first. Club officials, coaches and players – so keen on blaming referees for alleged “mistakes that decide the game result” – should above all make a reflection. It is they (Club officials, coaches and football players) who have collectively adopted the inventory of “modern football”, leading to a loss of control over their team, the course of pitch actions, as well as the opponent. Ergo, the “football environment” is fully responsible for the dramatic decrease in the quality of the team tactics (organization of team play), reducing the matter of tactics to an embarrassing format, and making the structural development of teams impossible. The conclusion is clear: the constantly out of control course of events on the pitch and the associated frustration is not the fault of any referee on the planet.

“Modern football” is characterized by the use of group and individual actions, for which team actions are not practiced. The standard is the setting of only barely general guidelines, structured solutions are defined at most for the first passages of a particular phase (defensive phase, offensive phase), any interlocking mechanisms in the play are missing. In other words: the complexity of game systems has become a taboo subject. Formations, tactical rules, tactical assignments are constantly being changed, and thereby destroying any development process. Much more time is spent analyzing the opponent and coming up with quasi-solutions to outsmart the rival than working on advancing the play of own team. Coaches rely on the invention of players, and this trend generates disorder and chaos. In general, the tactics/organization of play are treated in terms of a subsidiary factor for players’ skills and individual actions. The trend of fast and direct play in an unorganized manner, maximally destabilizing the structure of team tactics, only confirms the formulated thesis. Coaching staffs invest the most time in the complementary elements of the game system, for football itself, the play structure is not of great interest.

The above list is just an excerpt from my record of football problems. Taken together, they have not only led to a dramatic degeneration of the level of football, but also, as I stated above, taken the control panel out of the hands of coaches. They are suffering, as are their players. Both groups, unfortunately, do not yet know this. And in reflex mode they are looking for an explanation on another side. On the side of the referees. Because of misunderstanding.


I worked many years as a Coach and Sports Director. During this time, I very often observed other coaches and sports directors jumping and protesting at the sideline. Statements criticizing the work of the referee I heard at press conferences and read on the Internet. In such situations, one question always circled in my mind: what is this primitive behavior supposed to achieve, anyway? To this day, it has not become clear to me. Instead, I know exactly what negative effects such an absurd approach produces. Whether during or after the game – any criticism of the referee distracts the coach. He loses focus and stops concentrating on the aspects that really matter, namely working with his staff and his team. In this way, the coach closes the way for reflection of his own doings. Then any analytical effort is made through the prism of a mentality bearing the name “The referees are always blamed.” Such circumstances not only impede the development of the team, but also threaten the individual career path of the coach. On the basis of the disastrous behavior of coaches and executives at the Club – read: on account of unsuitable phrases – cheap excuses are made for the players. The question of quality, on-pitch performance, development, as well as liability immediately gains a completely different interpretation field, which translates into a more difficult working conditions for the coaching staff. Club officials’ discussion of the refereeing issue exposes, as it does with coaches and players, a football misunderstanding as a sport and a game misunderstanding. Moreover, such an attitude betrays disastrous mechanisms for controlling the quality of on-pitch and off-pitch activities, in addition to favoring verification of the effect, instead of the components. This is a classic factor blocking the development process.

Regardless of the position fulfilled, criticism of the referee always remains a counterproductive behavior.


The field of professional football includes numerous specialized roles. Club officials, coaches, players and referees, among others, belong to one industry. So, the solidarity of all professions within the football world should become canon. In direct conversations – but not in public – it is possible to pass comments, to communicate more directly. However, taking dissensions to the outside is already very inelegant behavior. I am extremely surprised that the unwritten rule of renouncing mutual negative criticism works quite well among representatives of Clubs, coaches and players (also in mixed constellations), while referees have been excluded from this puzzle. The increasingly frequent lack of respect towards referees is also strongly dangerous. And so we arrived at the last point.


All club executives, all coaches and all players in professional football are under permanent pressure. Every named negative assessment from superiors, journalists, “experts,” fans or anonymous ignoramuses hurts and sometimes leaves permanent marks. How shortsighted must one act to be unable to transform this knowledge into the refereeing environment! All referees lead their own lives, have feelings, have families and the overwhelming majority want to perform their profession absolutely professionally. Baseless tirades that belittle the quality of the referees’ work simply cause a disservice to these people, are substantively completely unjustified, and on top of that imply a whole lot of trouble. Especially in times of social dehumanization, any accusations fall on fertile ground. They are whistled at and insulted in the stadium, pelted with invectives on the Internet, and perhaps surprisingly accosted in everyday life. It is not the referee but the person who is exposed to this suffering. The consequences can be fatal: self-doubt, anxiety and depression, plus a lost passion for the beautiful game.

The case of Felix Zwayer in Germany was very sad, undeserved and confirmed the above pattern. The international referee long carried the intention to end his career, but fortunately he returned to the football scene. All these events are “only” the tip of the iceberg, because, in fact, a very large group of referees could tell about their adventures. Not only in the highest leagues, but also at a lower tier. The example comes from the top.

A mentality under the title “Referees are always blamed” has long since established itself in the world of football. Such set optics derive from a football misunderstanding and is intended to reflexively cover up own incompetence. I am devoid of illusions, so I realize that this wicked issue will not end tomorrow. Nonetheless, I would feel joy if more people would finally start discussing this subject. Currently, there is not even a tentative attempt to engage in discourse regarding the futility of the criticism formulated against football referees. This is a pity.