With Italy failing to qualify for the World Cup, Everton on the hunt for a new manager, and England’s youngsters leading the way, you’d think there would be plenty for football fans to talk about this week. But just a quick glance at any social media platform, and its easy to see that there is a far bigger, far more interesting, and infinitely more controversial piece of footy news making the rounds.
Mike Dean will be refereeing this weekend’s North London Derby.
Referees are rarely popular amongst football fans, but it’s difficult to recall a time when the announcement of a match official has caused such upset. As a neutral, the prospect of an in form Spurs facing an Arsenal team with a point to prove is certainly exciting, but many Arsenal fans believe that with Mike Dean running the show, their team is at a huge disadvantage. In fact, some Arsenal supporters are claiming that the Gunners may as well forfeit the match, hand the three points over to Spurs, and go for a nice quiet Saturday afternoon pint.
In terms of fairness, this weekend’s clash should be no different to any other match, but on a somewhat superficial level, it’s easy to sympathise with Gunners fans.
When you picture say, Bobby Madley or Andre Marriner, it’s hard to form any sort of extreme opinion one way or the other. Both refs have made mistakes over the years, but for the most part they seem to fade into the background and get on with their job.
Picture the likes of Mike Dean or Michael Oliver however, and you’re likely to remember that time you had to choose between screaming so loud you’d pop your dogs eardrums, or delicately removing your fist from the front of your new telly. Needless to say, Poochettino isn’t bothered by the doorbell anymore.
The reason behind this undeniable hatred for certain referees comes down to two simple factors – decisions and body language. And this is why Mike Dean is such a controversial figure.
Looking at body language alone, Dean seems to enjoy being at the centre of attention during a match, particularly in tense situations. He often makes wild hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions that proceed to drive football fans crazy.
As there is no fair way to determine if Dean truly revels in controversy, we can only judge him on his decision making, and this is where it gets interesting.
Over the course of the 30 matches that Dean officiated last season, he handed out 5 red cards and 111 yellow cards. Only three refs distributed more yellows that Dean, with none making as many dismissals. The 49-year-old was even more prolific during the 2016/15 season, brandishing 107 yellows and a whopping 9 reds over 33 matches. A similar pattern can be seen all the way back to the 2011/12 season.
This season, Dean has only given out 1 red card, sending off Raheem Sterling in the 99th minute of Man City’s 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on August 26. In that instance, the red card did little to effect the game (besides angering City fans), but have Dean’s decisions drastically altered matches in the past?
Well….yes. And there is one incident in particular that Arsenal fans won’t soon forget.
Back in 2015 the Gunners travelled to Stamford Bridge to face a struggling Chelsea side, that had slipped to 13th in the league. For much of the first half, Chelsea striker Diego Costa provoked Arsenal’s defenders, twice hitting out at Laurent Koscielny, and scratching Gabriel. Dean had been consistently lenient with Costa, but when Gabriel finally reacted, Dean showed him a straight red. Chelsea went 1-0 up through Kurt Zouma, before Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla was handed a second yellow for a tackle on Cesc Fabregas. The match ended 2-0 to Chelsea, putting a dampener on Arsenal’s title chances.
This is of course just one example, but a quick google search will unveil a treasure chest of controversial Mike Dean decisions – not to mention the conspiracy theory that Dean has been spotted celebrating Tottenham goals.
Former ref Graham Poll once described Dean as ‘the referee happiest to take the biggest decisions’ in the Premier League today, adding ‘referees aren’t on the field to be popular, they are there to show the courage of their convictions and give what they see.’
With that in mind, perhaps there will always be a referee that stands out from his peers. A ref we love to hate. But if the thought of Mike Dean officiating your team’s biggest match of the season is too much to bear, remember this…..it could be Mark Clattenburg.