Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg reveals the five most annoying players he officiated

West Bromwich Albion v Leicester City - Premier League

Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg officiated some of the biggest games in the world, including finals of the European Championship, Champions League and FA Cup.

He was arguably the best referee in the English top flight before leaving to become Saudi Arabia’s Head of Refereeing in early 2017.

“I used to love Mark Clattenburg,” Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel recently said on That Peter Crouch Podcast.

"No bulls*** - he’d tell you to f*** off if you were being a d***.”

Clattenburg enjoyed plenty of great moments but there were several challenges as well, most often presented by the players he refereed.

In his column for the Daily Mail, he’s named the five most annoying players he has presided over…

Craig Bellamy

Bellamy was a notoriously difficult player to officiate, regularly arguing with those in charge.

“Bellamy was a nightmare to referee and most of us felt the same,” Clattenburg said. “He would snarl at you and throw his arms around, constantly challenging you. His language was awful, just plain rude. 

“As a referee, it is difficult when you have a problem player like that because you are drawn to him and it's a distraction.”

Manchester City's Welsh forward Craig Be

Clattenburg will never forget the time Bellamy got cheeky with him…

He added: “I knew my relationship with him was on sticky ground when he squeezed my balls in the tunnel at the Etihad, and I don't mean my match-balls! It was a joke - I think - and I took in that spirit, but there was a bit of history.

“Why? It probably goes back to December 2009 when Manchester City were at Bolton and I sent him off.”

Roy Keane

Keane tried to bully referees, according to Clattenburg.

“When he played he was hard to manage. Remember the incident with Andy D'Urso when he screamed in his face, that attempt to bully the referee is what he was like,” he said.

“I do think that came from Sir Alex Ferguson as well though. It was never about influencing the decision that had gone with Manchester United, it was always about applying more pressure ahead of the next one.

Roy Keane of Manchester United shouting at his team mates

“You just couldn't trust Roy either. You never knew if he was going to blow up or do something nasty, like the tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland. That was a disgrace, it was pre-meditated.

“He always came across as stone-cold and wanted to be the hard man. That causes problems for referees because the ego kicks in and it becomes a fight, like it did between him and Patrick Vieira.”

Jens Lehmann

By the sounds of it, Lehmann was not much fun to preside over.

“He was just so irritable and never stopped, one of those miserable blokes who would whinge about everything and everyone,” Clattenburg said. 

“If the ball was round, he would whinge. If the ball was white, he would whinge. You would think, 'Just give it a rest'.

Manchester United v Arsenal

“He was a great goalkeeper but I honestly think this was a weakness in him and other teams identified that. They would stand on his toes at corners and he would react by pushing them.

“I didn't enjoy refereeing him at all. He was erratic and his antics were not easy to deal with.”


Of course Pepe makes the list. The former Real Madrid defender regularly irritated football fans with his antics, so it’s no surprise he annoyed the man in charge.

“Everyone always asks about the incident in the 2016 Champions League final when I did that thing with my tongue as he was rolling around on the floor, play-acting. In my head I was thinking: 'How soft are you for a big man?'

"He did it twice in that game, trying to get an Atletico Madrid player sent off. Another referee might have fallen for it but I'd done my homework and, while you should try not to pre-judge, I knew exactly what his mentality was like and I needed that knowledge to handle him.

Real Madrid v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final

"He was another player you just couldn't trust. A game could be easy and straightforward then he would do something sly.

"In that final Real Madrid went 1-0 up in the first half but the goal was slightly offside and we realised at half-time — it was a hard call and my assistant missed it.

"I gave Atletico a penalty early in the second half when Pepe fouled Fernando Torres. Pepe was furious and said to me in perfect English: 'Never a penalty, Mark.' I said to him: 'Your first goal shouldn't have stood.' It shut him up.

Real Madrid v Club Atletico de Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final

"People might think that sounds odd, because two wrongs don't make a right and referees don't think like that, but players do. I knew by saying that to him it would make him more accepting of the situation.

"But he was a wind-up merchant and not fun to referee one bit, you had to be on your guard constantly."

John Obi Mikel

In 2012, Chelsea lodged a former complaint to the FA after Mikel accused Clattenburg of making a racist comment during a match.

The official was cleared by the FA but the incident still hurts Clattenburg to this day.

“I have picked Mikel because of the incident during a Chelsea v Manchester United match in 2012 when he accused me of making a racist comment, which was not right and I was later cleared by the FA.


“He has never apologised and that is disappointing because it could have ruined my life. I fell out of love with refereeing for a while after that but couldn't quit because I had a family to support and no other career to pursue.

“It all left a bad feeling that still lingers today. 

“Mikel only heard the allegation from his team-mate Ramires, who did not speak English. Other Chelsea players have since apologised but nothing from Mikel.

“He had the chance to say sorry and speak to me about it during a Nigeria friendly in the United States before the World Cup in 2014, and I would have welcomed that, but nothing, sadly.”

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