The match official assignments for this weekend’s Premier League matches have been released, and the North London Derby got a... well, let’s just say the one selected is probably a match for the intensity of the competition. Sunday’s first clash between Tottenham and arch-rivals Arsenal at the Emirates will be officiated by Mark Clattenburg, and depending on who you talk to this is either a good thing or a bad thing.
All referees find themselves mild to moderate pariahs among football fans, but Clattenburg turns those feelings up to 11. With the retirement of Howard Webb, Clattenburg probably now has the mantle of the most high-profile Premier League official working today, especially after he served as head official for both the Champions League final last season and the Euro 16 final this summer. He is, on balance, a very solid official.
That said, he earns his fair share of critics, especially from those who think that he has a propensity to insert himself into the narrative of intense matches and make the match as much about him as about the players on the pitch. There are also allegations that some of the decisions he makes on the pitch can be somewhat personal.
Jose Mourinho certainly isn’t a fan: he criticized Clattenburg in United’s scoreless draw against Burnley after he failed to call a penalty in United’s favor and then later sent off Ander Herrera. (On the other hand, having Jose Morinho mad at you might rightfully be called a badge of honor in some circles, so.)
Spurs have their history with Clattenburg, too. One only has to look back to the Battle of Stamford Bridge last season, when Clattenburg completely lost control of the match and issued nine yellow cards to Tottenham players, a Premier League record. It wasn’t Clattenburg’s fault that Spurs didn’t win the match, but his performance in that match was roundly criticized by both sets of supporters.
Clattenburg has officiated one Spurs match so far this season: the 1-1 draw against West Brom. In fairness, my rage over that particular match was directed more at Tony Pulis than at Clattenburg.
The North London Derby is one of the most intense derbies in the Premier League, and there’s always the possibility that someone loses their head in the heat of competition and does something stupid. Clattenburg is, on balance, a good match official and I guess is probably the right choice to call what is without question the most high profile matchup in the EPL this weekend. But if they say that the best officials are the ones you barely notice, well, that’s usually not Mark Clattenburg. This could get interesting.