By Marcus Hogg
Mark Clattenburg is leaving the Premier League at the end of the season to become Saudi Arabia’s head of refereeing.
Top-quality match officials are in short supply, and English football can ill afford to lose the man who took charge of last year’s Champions League and Euro 2016 finals.
Here’s are five ways in which the Premier League should tackle the situation.
1. Protecting its assets
An “asset” to the Premier League was how the Professional Games Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) described Clattenburg, 41. Now he’s off, football’s governing bodies must do everything they can to support referees as the focus on them will be more intense than ever.
2. Nurturing talent
They need to back the talent they have by doing all they can to educate them on every aspect of being a top referee. Standards must rise, and that can only be done through better training and teaching provided by the FA and PGMOL.
3. More technological assistance
Whilst TV pundits such as Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Gary Neville have the luxury of rewinding and slowing down footage – usually to bemoan an official’s decision – the referees don’t.
So when a big call needs to be made, refs need more help, and that means the introduction of video replays. Goal-line technology is helping, but surely it’s just the start?
4. Keeping the best
Now Clattenburg is off, English football cannot afford to lose more top refereeing talent from what is already a limited pool. Andre Marriner, Martin Atkinson, Mike Dean and Michael Oliver are all well respected and must be kept.
5. Find the next Clattenburg
The job now is to find replacements. England has been lucky enough to have both Clattenburg and Howard Webb in recent years. Now the FA and PGMOL must identify, nurture and assist the next top refs.
One of the biggest issues that face the PGMOL and FA is how to recruit referees at grassroots level. Many of those who officiate in local leagues complain of threats and even assaults.
Amateur ref Ryan Hampson even wants amateur officials to go on strike in protest at the treatment they receive.
“I’ve been head-butted, spat at and punched by players,” he told the BBC.
This issue must be tackled; otherwise why would anyone want to be a ref? If it’s ignored, the next crop of potential elite officials may well give up.