“I won’t ever go out on a football pitch again. I am too scared. It is not worth it. Unfortunately, that is the way football looks in 2005. I’ve had enough. I don’t know if I even dare let my kids go to the post office. These past 16 days have been the worst in my life as a soccer referee.” (Anders Frisk – The Guardian, 2005)
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The Guardian published above words from Anders Frisk following his retirement announcement. Frisk was the respected and globally-known Swedish referee and he was faced with death threats from English fans due to controversially sent off Chelsea striker Didier Drogba in the match at the Nou Camp when the London side was leading 1-0 against Barcelona.
Considering the single-sided perspective of European fans, they sharply criticize decisions of referees on the pitch. What’s more, coaches and players often lay losses to referees’ charges in order to avoid probable criticism. At this point, all actors in the soccer ecosystem regularly forget that referees belong to humankind too! It is obvious that referees are the loneliest people on the pitch!
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Within the scope of the study, performances of referees, who had conducted games in the Champions League and UEFA Europa League as well as England Premier League, France Ligue 1, Germany Bundesliga, Italy Serie A, Spain La Liga and Turkey Super League between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018 seasons, are analyzed by using Tableau (a Business Intelligence tool). The total appearances of the referees per season, foul per game, tackle/foul, penalty per game, yellow card and red card parameters per game were discussed with five responsive charts (dashboards) in 4 chapters.
Chapter 1: Total Referee Number by League
As shown in the dashboard, referee numbers served per season are demonstrated in UEFA tournament as well as each national league.
- La Liga and Premier League stand out as the leagues with the lowest number of referees. Along with La Liga’s stability at the level of 20 referees per season, Premier League had maintained the average of 20 different referees with minor changes over the last four seasons.
- Serie A comes to the fore by including the maximum number of referee per season. In Italy, 35 to 40 referees had served during each of the seasons.
- Turkey Super League stands out as the most unstable league in terms of referee amount. While 40 referees served in 2015-2016 season, total referee number had shown a decrease to 23 in 2017-2018.
- Although the number of games varies across stages (group and final) in the Champions League, the number of referee whistle during the season remained the same at the level of 38, on average.
- In the Europa League, the number of referees in the group stage and the final period are directly proportional to the number of matches. In the group stage, circa 90 referees whistle in 144 games; while the final stage, which covers a period of 61 matches, is executed by approximately 70 referees.
Chapter 2: Appearance
The dashboard is composed of two sections. Referees served in the Champions League and the Europa League are shown by their countries in the first section. The analysis of the group and the final stages of both tournaments can be implemented by using the filters at the top right. In the second part, top-10 referees are demonstrated as the default view. Each of leagues can be examined in detail via league and season filters.
Champions League & UEFA Europa League
- In the four seasons between 2014-15 and 2017-2018, Italian referees managed most of the games in all stages of the Champions League and the Europa League. Serie A representatives, who had whistled in 158 games, were followed by Spanish with 153 games and German with 139 matches.
- The ranking does not show a change in case of taking only the Champions League into account. In the Europa League, Dutch referees stand at the forefront with their total number of appearances. Serdar Gözübüyük played a leading role in this parameter by whistling in 23 games over the last 4 seasons. Aside from Dutch, referees from Poland, Russia, Israel, and Turkey had managed a considerable number of games throughout this period.
- Milorad Mazic is the referee who whistles the most in all four seasons. Serbian referee was followed by Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey) and Damir Skomina (Slovenia) with 39 matches.
- In terms of the Champions League, Cüneyt Çakır had taken placed on the top with 34 games. In addition, Felix Brych (Germany) took the third place behind Milorad Mazic, who managed 33 games in the Champions League.
- Cüneyt Çakır was the referee who was assigned the most to the Champions League’s final stage. Çakır is also seen as the sole Turkish referee, taking part in the Champions League over the last four seasons.
- In the UEFA Europa League, Vladislav Bezbodorov from Russia stands out as the most whistle-blowing referee between 2014-2015 and 2017-2018. While Bezbodorov had also maintained its leadership in the group stage, Ivan Kruzliak from Slovakia was the referee who managed the most game in the final stage of the tournament.
- In England Premier League in which the least number of referees was assigned as shown in Chapter 1, five referees had regularly whistled in 30 games, on average. Mike Dean and Jonathan Moss, who had served only in the Premier League as well as the referees at UEFA events such as Anthony Tayler, Michael Oliver, and Martin Atkinson had literally carried the weight of the league on their shoulders.
- The most successful leagues are the Bundesliga and Serie A in terms of balancing the burden on the referees. In the past 4 seasons, Felix Brych and Manuel Grafe from Germany, as well as Luca Banti and Paolo Silvio Mazzoleni from Italy, had whistled 18 games, on average.
- Benoit Millot (36) and Mikael Lesage (43), who were two of three referees most appeared in France Ligue 1, did not take part in UEFA organizations. Likewise, Jose Luis Gonzalez Gonzalez (44) in La Liga and Firat Aydinus (45) in Turkey Super League’s had also taken no part in UEFA Organizations despite shining out as the most assigned referees in their national leagues.
Chapter 3: League Benchmark on Certain Perimeters
The dashboard consists of three divisions. In the first part, shares of home and away win as well as draw ratios are examined for each of leagues and European tournaments. In the second division, the parameters such as foul per game, tackle/foul, penalty per game are demonstrated on seasons basis. In the third part, the yellow card per game and red card per game ratios are given as comparative in season basis. Each league can be examined in detail with the ‘Highlight a League’ tab in the middle. Also in the middle section, filters for leagues and home/away teams allow the analysis of the parameters in the second and third sections on the basis of the leagues and the decisions given to the home and away teams.
Home Win & Away Win
- Champions League: Away win ratio had increased gradually in both group stage and final stage. While away win ratio was seen as 27% for both stages in the 2014-2015 season; it had increased to 32% for the group stage and reached 34% for the final stage as of 2017-2018.
- UEFA Europa League: The share of draw games had displayed a more balanced appearance compared to the Champions League, and remained at the band of 25%.
- Among the national leagues, Serie A was considered as the most transformed league. The share of draw games fell rapidly from 32% to 21% in four seasons. In addition, away win ratio, which was recorded as 28.5% in 2014-2015, had increased to 35% as of 2017-2018 season.
- Turkey Super League draws attention with the increasing share of home win. In the first season of the analysis, home win ratio was placed below the level of 45%. However, home teams had won one of the two games throughout the 2017-2018 season. There was a notable decline in draw rate. It had declined gradually to 22.5% while being recorded as 27.4% in the 2014-2015 season.
- La Liga stands out as the most stable league in terms of the result of games. In Spain, home teams won their games with the probability of 45%-50%, while the away team’s victory was placed at the level of 30% in each season.
Faul & Penalty
- Most fouls were whistled in Turkey Super League among national leagues. Nevertheless, foul per game fell from 33 to 29 in the league over the last four seasons. However, Turkish referees had still kept the leading position in foul per tackle, although it decreased from 1.0 to 0.84.
- Premier League is the national league where referees were the most tolerant to tackle. Although foul/tackle outpaced the level of 0.60, the foul per game had improved almost all seasons and fell to 20.7.
- The Champions League is also considered as the closest tournament to the Premier League in foul statistics.
- Serie A and Bundesliga come to the forefront as the most improved leagues in foul figures. While decreases in foul per game and foul/tackle were recorded as 30 to 25 and 0.85 to 0.79 in the Serie A; these rates were 30 to 28 and 0.77 to 0.71, respectively, in the Bundesliga.
- Turkey Super League was the national league in which penalty per game had most increased since 2014-2015. While a penalty was given 1 out of every 4 games in the 2014-2015 season, this rate outpaced 1 penalty per 3 games over the last two seasons. Aside from the Super League, referees in the Ligue 1 and the Serie A had made more penalty decisions compared to other leagues.
Yellow Card & Red Card
- The La Liga is the national league where the yellow card was given more than other prominent leagues. Despite a gradual improvement from 5.3 to 4.8, the La Liga still stands out with the highest yellow card per game figure.
- The most progressive league in yellow card statistics is undoubtedly the Serie A. The rate fell from 4.8 to 3.8 over the last four seasons.
- The Ligue 1, in which minimum yellow card was given in 2014-2015, had followed a fluctuating course.
- The Premier League and the Bundesliga have continued to show improvement in yellow cards.
- Almost all national leagues and UEFA tournaments had shown significant improvements in reducing the number of red cards the only exception seems to be Turkey Super League. In 2015-2016, in addition to UEFA Europa League, the Ligue 1, the Serie A, the La Liga, and the Super Lig were above 0.20 (1 red card in every 5 games). As of 2017-2018, the Europa League and the La Liga managed to gell below this level. While the Ligue 1 and the Serie A had approached the band of 0.20; the Super League had continued to be placed at the level of 0.30.
Chapter 4: Referee Performance
In this chapter, there are two dashboards: ‘home/away win’ and ‘foul, penalty, card’. Both dashboards are composed of three sections and were built by below hierarchy.
- The first section hosts analyses regarding the Champions League and the Europa League with their both group and final stages. Along with referees from countries (England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey) that are primarily examined in the study, referees from other countries could be analyzed according to parameters at the top right.
- The second part enables the user comparing domestic performances of referees from primary countries with their performances in UEFA organizations. This section includes only referees who had managed at least a game in the Champions League and the Europa League.
- In the third section, domestic performance of referees could be analyzed in each of the parameters at the top right. This section includes referees who had managed at least a game in UEFA organizations as well as in only domestic league.
Turkey Super League – Case Study: Home Win & Away Win
- Cüneyt Çakır is the only Turkish referee who had managed games in UEFA Champions League. While he had been assigned to UEFA Europa League games in the beginning, he had been whistling only in the Champions League since 2016-2017. In UEFA tournaments, the share of away wins are seen as very low. For example, there was no away win in a total of 5 games in seasons of 2014-2015 and 2016-2017. In addition, away teams had not won any victory during the final stages (2 games) of UEFA Europa League in the 2015-2016 season.
- Hüseyin Göçek is the Turkish referee who plays the most regular whistle in the UEFA Europa League. Gocek directed by Turkey Super League match in a draw ratio of 20%, while this rate was seen above 40% in UEFA Champions League, except the 2015-2016 season.
- There are seven referees who can be called as the primary in terms of appearance figures. Along with Cuneyt Cakir, Huseyin Gocek, Halis Ozkahya, Ali Palabiyik and Mete Kalkavan, who take the field in the UEFA organizations, Fırat Aydınus and Bülent Yıldırım stand at the top of the list of referees.
- Among top-7 referees, Cüneyt Çakır and Halis Özkahya come to the fore with high home win ratio. Home teams’ win ratio, in which the games managed by Cüneyt Çakır, had shown an increase from 30% to 65% in four seasons. The share of home wins in the games managed by Halis Özkahya, who had whistled in 16 games with 81% of home win ratio in the 2015-2016 seasons, fell to 57% as of 2017-2018.
- Fırat Aydınus may be the referee who away teams do not want to see on the pitch! Over the last four seasons, away win ratio was at the band of 20%. What’s more, the ratio was realized as 16% and 17.4% in 2014-2015 and 2017-2018, respectively. (As highlighted in Chapter 3, the draws with 27.4% in the 2014-2015 season decreased gradually to 22.5% in Turkey Super League.)
Turkey Super League – Case Study: Foul, Penalty and Card Statistics
Foul per Game
- As mentioned in Chapter 3, Turkey Super League had kept its leadership on foul per game parameter. Cüneyt Çakır, who is the one and only representative of Turkish football in the Champions League, had improved its foul per rate figures by decreasing to the band of 25 in the Champions League. However, his statistics had shown a considerable increase to 35 in the Super League.
- In the 2016-2017 season, Hüseyin Göçek took the field in a total of 7 matches in the Europa League and made 37 foul decision per game, on average, accounting for one of the highest levels in the tournament.
- Ali Palabıyık was assigned to 8 matches in the UEFA Europa League in the seasons of 2016-2017 and 2017-2018. In both seasons, Palabıyık, who had a stable foul course, had less foul decision compared to matches in the national league.
- Considering top-10 referees in the Super League, there had occurred a significant improvement in foul per game. In terms of the parameter, Fırat Aydınus, Mete Kalkavan, Bülent Yıldırım and Halis Özkahya declined from 31-33 to 26-29 and Hüseyin Göçek recorded an improvement from 35 to 31.
- Ozgur Yankaya and Alper Ulusoy come to the forefront with considerably high foul average in recent seasons, in spite of decreasing in the number of foul decisions in the last season.
- For home teams, the number of fouls was at the band of 16-18 in the first two seasons. Following seasons, it had decreased to 14-16 level. Cuneyt Cakir was the only referee who has not experienced this downtrend.
- The rate of the away teams were placed in the level of 16. The number of fouls whistled by Fırat Aydınus, Bülent Yıldırım and Mete Kalkavan to away teams had decreased steadily to the band of 14.
- Cuneyt Cakir’s ratio in the Super League was around 1.00, but it fell below the 0.80 in UEFA tournaments except for 2016-2017.
- Likewise Cüneyt Çakır, Hüseyin Göçek had also foul/tackle ratio at 1.00. However, his ratio had decreased to 0.60 with a continuous development in the UEFA Europa League. In this downtrend, the decline in his whistles to away teams played an active role. His foul performance toward home teams had followed a similar course in the European League and the Super League.
- Fırat Aydınus had shown a significant improvement in the aforementioned parameter and his ratio had decreased from 1 to 0.75. In addition to Aydınus, Mete Kalkavan and Bulent Yıldırım, who had the lowest foul/tackle level, had made a significant progress in this metric.
- Cuneyt Cakir, who performed below 1.00 in 2014-2015 season, had emerged as the only Super League referee whose rate had risen.
- While the foul/tackle ratio was placed above 1.00 (except for Mete Kalkavan and Bülent Yıldırım) during the first seasons, the most of the referees had approached the band 0.80 over the last two years.
- Considering away teams, half of the top-10 referees were placed above the level of 1.00 while the other half was heaped up around 1.00. As of 2017-2018 season, five referees fell below 0.80. Cüneyt Çakır is seen as the only referee staying at 1.00.
Penalty per Game
- Over the last three seasons, no Turkish referee had made a penalty decision in the Europa League.
- Considering Cüneyt Çakır’s penalty profile in last two seasons, there was an inverse correlation between the Champions League (decreased) and the Super League (increased).
- Hüseyin Göçek was the most penny pincher referee in terms of penalty. Göçek’s rate remained below 0.20 except for the 2015-2016 season.
- Özgur Yankaya and Alper Ulusoy come to the forefront as the referees in the band of 0.40-0.60 band with regards to penalty per game.
Yellow Card per Game
- The ratio in the Super League rose to 5.00 in recent seasons, mainly driven by an increase in the number of yellow cards (approached 3) being shown to away teams.
- Cuneyt Cakir had a stable yellow card performance with 4 yellow cards per game, on average, over the last four years.
- Ali Palabıyık had shown the most significant improvement in this parameter. The average of Palabıyık, who showed 6 yellow cards per game in 2014-2015, dropped to 4 as of the 2017-2018 season.
- Halis Özkahya is the only referee in the Super League who had consistently shown less than 4 yellow cards per game. Mete Kalkavan and Fırat Aydınus had also a relatively stable performance with the bands of 4-5 yellow card per game.
- There was a difference of 0.1 – per game – between home teams and away teams. In other words, away teams were exposed to 1 more yellow card in nine games played each week.
Red Card per Game
- Fırat Aydınus, who had shown a significant improvement in the foul parameters, stands at the forefront with his downtrend in red card performance. While he showed 0.2 red cards per game in the 2014-2015 season, the ratio had shown a considerable increase and reached the level of 0.4 as of 2017-2018. At this point, the number of red cards that Aydınus showed to home teams decreased from 0.11 to 0.04 as opposed to away teams, which had experienced growing number of red cards (from 0.25 to 0.39) over the last three seasons. In other words, Aydınus showed 4 red cards in 100 matches to home teams, while realizing 4 red cards in every 10 matches for away teams.
- The red card profile of Mete Kalkavan and Bülent Yıldırım remained stable in recent seasons. However, considering the card details of the two referees, the average card they showed to the home teams decreased steadily while the red card decisions they gave to away teams increased.
- Ali Palabıyık is seen as the Turkish referee, who had the highest red card per game statistics in the Super League.