Past year's trend: Laws of the Game revision
Much has been changed by the IFAB in 2016. And not everything has reached the field of play both on amateur and professional levels so far. In 2017, the Laws of the Game changes and their impact on the game will be surely analyzed by the responsible bodies. More education is needed to cement the referees' knowledge and interpretation of the new Laws of the Game.
More public examples in the highest leagues will be needed to clarify and internalize the one or other aspect, such as when yellow and when red cards should be given after a DOGSO offence in the penalty area.
Megatrend Video Assistant Refereeing
Nothing will very likely change football and refereeing more than what has been tested at Japan's FIFA Club World Cup during the past few days. What was a theoretical concept for some times, has materialized over the last 1-2 seasons: Video Assistant Refereeing is no longer theoretical, but truly practical. Not in all meanings of the term 'practical' though: The Club World Cup nicely mirrors the problems related to video referees that are still unsolved.
2017 will be very likely a decisive, next text phase for the VAR experiment. The system is about to be introduced in some major European leagues, which might be of higher and more pathbreaking relevance for its future than a small and, to be honest, not that important tournament in Japan.
The IFAB, FIFA, UEFA etc. will surely analyze the benefits and weaknesses of the system, carefully look into what went right and what went wrong in Japan to draw the right conclusions and adapt the system where needed.
Macrotrend Psychological and Personality-related Qualities
Ideally, Video Assistant Refereeing will ensure that crucial decisions will be taken in the best possible way in future. Therefore, decision-taking qualities will stay an important key competence of good referees, of course. However, it can be assumed that with big mistakes becoming less painful by being correctable, interindividual differences in the decision-taking-quality of referees will become less significant than they are nowadays, whereas other characteristics that qualify referees to reach the top might become more important.
With the VAR system being in sight, top-flight referees should move in a relatively high performance density in terms of decision-taking-qualities and fitness level. It can be expected that personal characteristics in other fields might become more critical for success in future, such as things which are commonly called 'soft skills'.
What makes a good referee be a very good one then in future?
More focus might be shifted on individual characteristics, such as:
- mental and tactical preparation prior to games deploying digital material
- coping strategies in terms of stress management
- self-management skills
- selling and communicating decisions instead of merely taking them correctly ('impression management')
- developing communication abilities (verbal & non-verbal) as part of educating referees
- psychological and mental training and assistance for referees
- screening, selecting and developing referees on the basis of success-critical personality traits
- considering other psychological concepts (e.g. intelligence, flow, mindfulness etc.) as part of referee selection and development
Emerging Trend: Higher Consideration of Smaller Footballing Nations/Teams
Recently, there is an emerging trend within FIFA and UEFA to put more focus on smaller footballing nations. A few signs of that:
- FIFA president Infantino planning a reform of the World Cup system, soon enabling more teams to join them
- UEFA having integrated teams like Gibraltar or Kosovo into their competitions
- New UEFA president Ceferin announcing he will stand up to bigger clubs to fight for smaller teams
In terms of refereeing, this trend is only observable in FIFA so far. Having a look at the pre-list for the next World Cup, there are - again - many officials from diverse and partly exotic nations. There is hardly any nation with more than 1 main referee anymore. It seems as if FIFA is working hard to reduce the dominance of allegedly superior nations and confederations. If quality wins, this can be only good.
This trend is not observable that much yet with regard to UEFA officiating as we have shown in a recent article. But this trend will very likely spare no-one. It will probably also reach Nyon against the background of the new president in office. So, it might not only be laudable, but even necessary to have a closer look to referees from smaller nations that have a lower impact in terms of football in future. We will see whether this trend turns out into common praxis or whether it stays a one-hit wonder.
Metatrend: Fighting for Fairplay and Justice
The trend that stands above all these things circumscribed above seems to be a more or less genuine fight for fairplay and justice in football and refereeing.
The Laws of the Game revision was widely intended to simplify things but also to change some systematical "offender-victim"-passages and impacts on the game to the better, or at least to the more just (think about penalty kicks which are now given in case of an illegal interference by a team official, for example). Most other LotG changes were basically targeted at reinforcing the spirit of the game and making the fairplay principle be more represented in the written lawbook.
The VAR system is basically introduced to enhance the quality of important decisions that decide on sending-off or no sending-off, goal or no goal, win or loss. Focussing more on psychological qualities in the area of personality and game-management is rather our claim than a real observable trend at the moment. But also this one is aimed at increasing justice on the field of play as well as in terms of developing and selecting the right referees instead of making judgments based on a referee's origin, personal sympathies/antipathies or nepotism.
The higher consideration of smaller nations is also tending to bring more fairplay into football's organizing bodies and maybe even intro referee selection. Of course the main goals might be different and more political ones, but the observable move towards smaller nations is basically a moral one.
2017 will be vital for refereeing in many ways, as you can see. But the considerations made above also show how critical the past year, 2016, might have been for football refereeing in a long-term perspective.