Now, bear in mind that at the WWC, there were really only three referees who I thought had a chance at refereeing the final, and all three had performed very well throughout that tournament. Of the trio, however, I did not have Frappart down as the favourite – in my view, the frontrunner was Uruguay’s Claudia Umpierrez.
Frappart was chosen (not undeservingly, for the record), and I had the above reaction.
So, imagine what was going through my mind when I heard today’s Super Cup referee assignments:
August 14, 2019 – Besiktas Park, Istanbul Liverpool (ENG) vs Chelsea (ENG) REF: Stéphanie Frappart (FRA) AR1: Manuela Nicolosi (FRA) AR2: Michelle O’Neill (IRL) 4TH: Cüneyt Çakir (TUR) VAR: Clément Turpin (FRA) AVAR1: François Letexier (FRA) AVAR2: Mark Borsch (GER) AVAR3: Massimiliano Irrati (ITA)
The Super Cup: an utterly pointless game
Before I discuss Frappart and her team of officials, let me discuss the Super Cup in general. This match (and all of its domestic league equivalents, such as the Supercopa in Spain, Community Shield in England, and so on) are nothing but moneymakers for the footballing bodies that hold them. They’re an excuse to get two trophy-winning (and thus marketable) teams out for a friendly that, despite there being a trophy on the line, nobody bar José Mourinho attaches any value to. They’re a chance for fans to see matchups they normally wouldn’t get to see, given that, as far as the UEFA Super Cup is concerned, anyway, it’s usually played in cities and stadiums that don’t host any of the mega-hitters in European football.
Of course, the problem is that quite frequently, with a trophy to be won and two European champions on the pitch, to classify the match as purely a preseason competition wouldn’t really be doing it justice. So, to summarize, it’s a pointless game that’s marketed as anything but one.
Past Super Cup referee appointments
As this is the unofficial annual curtain-raiser for the European domestic football season, and has two trophy-winning teams playing, it gets a fair bit of publicity. UEFA has taken the match pretty seriously when it comes to referees in the past, with the likes of Mark Clattenburg, Björn Kuipers, Milorad Mazic, and Gianluca Rocchi all having been selected over the past several years.
All four of these men, and all of the Super Cup referees up until this point, have been UEFA Elite referees, the highest category of officials in Europe. Given that this is technically a ‘final,’ UEFA has tended to use this match as a springboard for future high-level assignments, with all four of those referees going on to referee either a Champions or Europa League final in the years following their Super Cup match.
It can work the other way, too: Willie Collum had a poor game in 2015 between Barcelona and Sevilla, and hasn’t really gotten any noticeably high-profile European matches since.
With this in mind, as part of marketing this match and taking it as seriously as they do, UEFA is throwing caution to the wind this year with Frappart’s appointment.
What message is UEFA sending here?
Of course, there is no denying Frappart’s credentials. After refereeing the Women’s World Cup Final a few weeks ago, in addition to being promoted to the pool of Ligue 1 officials for the upcoming 2019/20 season, she’s at the top of the pyramid when it comes to female referees.
However, what about the rest of the male Elite referees?
Take Antonio Mateu Lahoz, for example. Undoubtedly Spain’s best current referee, he’s taken charge of multiple El Classicos, multiple Champions League matches across several seasons (including a semifinal a few short months ago), a World Cup qualifying play-off, and a FIFA World Cup as well. And this is of course in addition to being one of the most consistently-trusted referees in Spain’s La Liga. (Although Gerard Piqué may disagree.)
Mateu Lahoz is unlucky that so many Spanish teams consistently make the finals of the Europa and Champions Leagues, because there’s a good chance that he could have officiated one of them otherwise.
And how about Turkey’s own Cüneyt Çakir? Known as the ‘semifinal referee’—in that he is routinely given high-profile and important semifinal matches, but nearly always passed over when it comes to major tournament finals—Çakir has been one of the world’s best referees over the past decade. With countless Champions League knockout matches under his belt (yet just the one final in 2015) and not one but TWO World Cup semifinal appointments, if anybody deserves another cup final, it’s him.
The point in all of this is that Mateu Lahoz, Çakir, and countless other top European male referees have earned their way to the top of men’s football over the past several years.
Frappart, on the other hand, has not.
UEFA’s past referee selections for this match, and the resulting inference that they take this fixture quite seriously, is completely at odds with assigning Frappart this year. Now, if Europe’s governing body decided to market this as a Mickey Mouse match, and teams had a history of resting many big names and treating it as a preseason friendly, then by all means, the choice of referee really doesn’t matter.
But the reality is that this game is more serious than that. It doesn’t sit well with me that someone with Mateu Lahoz’s resumé has never refereed a UEFA cup final, especially with this being the third golden chance in less than six months he’s had to be appointed to one, while someone who’s refereed two top-flight men’s professional matches is chosen instead.
Let me clarify that I am all for female referees taking charge of men’s matches. However, they should be subjected to the same performance standards and pathways as male referees. Male UEFA referees normally start in the Europa and Champions League qualifiers and group stages. From there, they go into the early-round EL knockouts, followed by the late-round EL and CL knockouts – and if they really prove themselves, then that’s when an assignment for a final might come.
Imagine how Mateu Lahoz will be feeling watching this match. Better yet, imagine what Çakir will be thinking as he performs fourth official duties for the game – in his home country, no less.
Yes, Frappart has refereed a Women’s World Cup Final, but the calibre of a match like that is not even comparable to that of a men’s Champions League knockout stage match. Now, refereeing should never be a question of gender. But since Frappart hasn’t made the progression in men’s football that referees such as Mateu Lahoz have, UEFA is turning this Super Cup appointment into nothing less than a question of gender.
And while I’m a referee supporter, and I really hope Frappart has a great game in Istanbul in a few weeks’ time (not least because Chelsea is involved), UEFA is playing a really dangerous game if she doesn’t.