Mark Clattenburg: Ex-Premier League referee reveals the five most annoying players he officiated


There’s no doubt that Mark Clattenburg is the most famous official in recent Premier League history.

Clattenburg officiated some of the biggest games in football, including European Championship and Champions League finals.

Before leaving England to become Saudi Arabia’s Head of Refereeing in early 2017, he was the best that the top flight had to offer.

And the players liked him, too.

“I used to love Mark Clattenburg,” Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said on That Peter Crouch Podcast in 2020.

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


Clattenburg’s most annoying players

Clattenburg refereed in an era filled with feisty players, many of whom presented a challenge or two.

Indeed, in his column for the Daily Mail, the 46-year-old – a Premier League ref for 13 years – revealed the five most annoying players he presided over…

Craig Bellamy

To be honest, Bellamy will be on most referee’s lists of annoying players to officiate.

“Bellamy was a nightmare to referee and most of us felt the same,” Clattenburg wrote.

“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.”


Clattenburg had sent Bellamy off while he played for Manchester City in a game against Bolton in 2009.

“I had booked him for dissent – I could have shown a red, the language was that bad – and I then gave him a second yellow for diving, although replays showed it was a penalty,” Clattenburg added.

“I was wrong. He went mental, as you can imagine.”

Roy Keane

Keane is another player who was a handful and Clattenburg didn’t like the way he used to try to “bully” referees.

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


“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.

“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.”


It turns out that Pepe’s antics didn’t just annoy football fans.

“He was a wind-up merchant and not fun to referee one bit, you had to be on your guard constantly,” Clattenburg said.

The former ref recalled what it was like to deal with the Portuguese centre-back in the 2016 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

“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,” he continued. “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.

“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.

“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.”


John Obi Mikel

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

Despite being cleared by the governing body, the incident still hurts the official.

“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.”

Jens Lehmann

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Lehmann sounds like a miserable player to referee.

Indeed, Clattenburg believes his penchant for whining actually became a weakness.

“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’.


“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.”

Clattenburg added: “He would do snidey, little things himself that made it difficult and I didn’t enjoy refereeing him at all.

“He was erratic and his antics were not easy to deal with.”

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