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No matter what sport you’re watching, criticism of officials transcends every boundary. Take the world of soccer, for example. After his Tottenham Hotspurs fell 3-1 in the North London Derby on Saturday, manager Antonio Conte turned the spotlight onto the referees.

While you might think that’s little more than deflection — rather than admitting to being second-best, it’s easier to blame external factors — the Italian did have a point. His postgame comments were a bit hypocritical, but Premier League officials do need to be more consistent.

Antonio Conte questioned English refereeing after losing the North London Derby

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte during the North London Derby.
Antonio Conte during the North London Derby. | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

During Saturday’s North London Derby, Emerson Royal was dismissed after receiving a borderline red card. While there’s room to debate the decision — you could question if it deserved to be a red and wonder if Spurs could have come back from a 2-1 deficit, even with 11 men — Antonio Conte still wasn’t pleased.

“Sometimes you are lucky, sometimes you are unlucky,” Conte said after the match, according to ESPN. “The red card killed the game, this is truth, but not because we remained with 10 men but because [our] team [which was] really, really offensive and also in the four or five minutes to make the substitutions, we were so offensive that it was really difficult to defend and we conceded the third goal.”

That was only the beginning, though. As he continued, the Italian’s comments got more and more pointed.

“I don’t know what happened later but in England, I have to be honest, it is very difficult because they don’t have the same line, you understand? Sometimes you see situations that could be a red card, instead yellow card or no yellow card,” he added. “Sometimes you see situations that are yellow card but instead [there is] a red card. They have to work a lot about this. In Italy for example, our referees they go on Thursday to stay together [for] three days to work together, to look at video to try to improve.”

In Conte’s mind, a similar practice should come to England ASAP.

“I don’t know if this happens in England but it would be a good idea because the [playing] level is so high, we need to have the level of the referee, of the VAR, at the same level, you understand, because the Premier League is a really high, high level,” the Spurs’ manager concluded. “For this reason, every part of this situation, in my opinion, has to be top.”

Conte’s complaints are a bit hypocritical, but he does have a point about consistency

As I mentioned earlier, there’s nothing unique about a manager questioning the standard of refereeing. In Conte’s case, though, his comments run counter to something he said last year.

At the tail end of the 2021-22 campaign, Tottenham beat Arsenal, essentially sealing their top-four finish. That match featured a Gunner, Rob Holding, receiving a red card, which prompted manager Mikel Arteta to fire his own shots at the referee. Conte clearly took notice.

“Arteta is a really good coach but he has just started this job and he has to be more focused on his team and not to keep complaining,” Conte said, according to the Guardian. “In six months here [at Spurs], I have listened to him complaining a lot. He needs to be more calm. But if he doesn’t want to accept my advice, I don’t care. The red card was clear for me and if we want to complain we have the opportunity every game to talk about referees, decisions and postponed games.”

Through that lens, the Italian’s comments sound a bit hollow. After his team received a red card in a North London Derby defeat, Conte had no problem questioning the officiating.

With that being said, though, the Spurs boss is right.


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Despite the arrival of VAR, Premier League refereeing is far too inconsistent. While it can be tough to litigate for missed calls — everyone is human, after all — things seem to shift every match. Some of that can be blamed on the way the Laws of the Game are written, but the referees and their associations are the ones who interpret those guidelines.

Handball, for example, has become the soccer equivalent to an NFL catch; no one is quite sure exactly where the dividing line is. The same can be said for physicality or, in Tottenham’s case, red card offenses. If a player can be sent off for serious foul play or endangering an opponent, what do those terms actually mean? Is a tackle that makes contact above the ankle dangerous? How much force is required to be dangerous? The list goes on and on.

At this point, though, it seems unlikely that anything will change. As Conte, Arteta, and anyone else involved with the Premier League can confirm, inconsistent officiating is simply par for the course in England.

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