Football: are Ligue 1 referees tougher than their counterparts in the major European championships?

The championship days follow one another, and with them their share of controversies over refereeing decisions. Latest: the severe expulsion of Niçois Jean-Clair Todibo after nine seconds of play, Sunday, September 18, against Angers. Have the referees received strictness instructions? Are the players more tense in a season with four relegations? With 34 red cards since the start of the season, Ligue 1 is in any case the most “prolific” championship among the five major European championships in number of exclusions.

Arbitral decisions”very questionable, even scandalous”, according to Jean-Clair Todibo. “A lack of consistency”for the Monegasque sporting director, Paul Mitchell. Everyone calls me from Spain and asks me why there are so many red cards. It is not normal…”, adds Oscar Garcia, the coach of Reims. Since the start of the season, criticism has rained on French referees, many of whose decisions are misunderstood and even questioned by Ligue 1 players.

With 34 red cards distributed since the start of the season, including 11 for the third day alone, Ligue 1 is well ahead of the major European championships. By way of comparison, 19 evictions were ordered by the referees of the Spanish Liga, 15 by the arbitri of Italian Serie A, 12 by the schiedsrichter of the German Bundesliga and finally only four by the referees of the English Premier League.

But behind these figures hide different realities. Ligue 1 is indeed the most advanced championship, with eight fully contested days, while the Italians only played seven days, the English championship was interrupted in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, the Spanish championship played only six days, and the Bundesliga has only 18 clubs, i.e. 9 matches per day instead of 10.

So by establishing an average which makes it possible to compare fairly, it nevertheless appears that Ligue 1 remains the championship which distributes the most red cards on average per game. In terms of yellow cards, however, Ligue 1 is not the championship where the “rusks” are most often distributed, with an average of four per game against 4.6 in Italy and even 5.5 in Spain.

Ligue 2 is not to be outdone: in nine championship days, 42 red cards have been distributed, for an average of 0.47 expulsion per match, which could suggest that the referees of the first two divisions have received instructions of severity on the part of the Technical Arbitration Department (DTA). At the end of August, the deputy technical director of the DTA, Stéphane Lannoy, spoke on this subject: “Like every year, at the start of each season, we set a certain number of instructions. We put the emphasis back on the protection of the players and their physical integrity, because we cannot be satisfied that a match ends with two or more wounded on each side”.

French referees have also been asked to be tougher on protests and shirt pulling: “The message that has been sent this season is that we no longer want to see a referee surrounded by a bunch of players who have come to put some form of pressure on him. As soon as a player begins to approach to contest, this one will be warned systematically, to prevent others from joining him. And the third lesson is the increase in belting and significant (shirt) pulling in the area. These subjects are the subject of even greater vigilance on the part of the referees.pointed out Stéphane Lannoy.

According to Bruno Derrien, a former international referee, the four relegations at the end of the season also cause more tension on the pitch. “The four runs can generate much more commitment from the teams and their players, who want at all costs to take points as quickly as possible, he explains. It reminds me of the 1992-1993 season, when I was a referee in the second division. At the time, a reform of the D2 would move the championship from two groups of 18 clubs to a single group of 22 clubs, two of which were promoted. Sixteen teams were therefore going to be relegated to National 1, and I remember that it was super tense, with a lot of pressure and commitment.

While discipline seemed to have returned last season, with 21 red cards distributed in eight days, Ligue 1 finds itself on the same basis as in 2020-2021, where the championship had seen red 33 times at the same stage of the season. competition, and 102 times after 38 days. But that season, the “classico” PSG-OM of the third day had particularly weighed in the accounts, with 5 expulsions at the end of the game.

This season, video assistance (VAR) is also at the center of criticism, such as that of Oscar Garcia after the expulsion of his player, Bradley Locko, against Monaco: We spoke about it with the Monaco coach and he also said that it was not a red card… I don’t know why we didn’t use the VAR”. But according to former referee Bruno Derrien, there is a logic to the non-intervention of video assistance: If the VAR does not intervene, it is because the assistant is going in the same direction as the central referee. The video assistants are also referees, follow the same courses and receive the same instructions, so it can be understood”.

In an attempt to calm things down, the Technical Arbitration Department invited Ligue 1 coaches to visit the VAR viewing center on Tuesday.

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