Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg has revealed the five most challenging players he encountered in his career.
Clattenburg officiated Champions League, FA Cup, and European Championship finals during his years amongst the elite but hung up his whistle in 2017 after becoming worn down by the abuse he suffered in his position.
While recognising that a football match is an emotionally heated event, the 46-year-old claims there were several players who would regularly step over the line.
Five Prem players who perform better for country than club
Speaking to the Daily Mail, he has named and shamed the worst culprits, starting (unsurprisingly) with Craig Bellamy, who, according to Clattenburg, “was just plain rude”.
“I knew my relationship with him was on sticky ground when he squeezed my balls in the tunnel at the Etihad, and I don’t mean my match balls,” he recalled.
“He would snarl at you and throw his arms around, constantly challenging you. His language was awful, just plain rude.
“As a referee, it is difficult when you have a problem player like that because you are drawn to him and it’s a distraction.
“Because I’m a Newcastle fan, I had the luxury of never refereeing him when I started. I just wish he had stayed at Newcastle for a bit longer!”
Next in the firing line was Roy Keane: “Remember the incident with Andy D’Urso when he screamed in his face? That attempt to bully the referee is what he was like.
“I do think that came from Sir Alex Ferguson as well though. It was never about influencing the decision that had gone with Manchester United, it was always about applying more pressure ahead of the next one.
“You just couldn’t trust Roy either. You never knew if he was going to blow up or do something nasty, like the tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland. That was a disgrace, it was pre-meditated.”
Clattenburg continued, moving on to Jens Lehmann: “He was just so irritable and never stopped, one of those miserable blokes who would whinge about everything and everyone.
“If the ball was round, he would whinge. If the ball was white, he would whinge. You would think, ‘just give it a rest’.
“He was erratic and his antics were not easy to deal with.”
Next up was Pepe – another notorious troublemaker: “A game could be easy and straightforward then he would do something sly,” Clattenburg said.
“In that [2016 Champions League] final Real Madrid went 1-0 up in the first half but the goal was slightly offside and we realised at half-time — it was a hard call and my assistant missed it.
“I gave Atletico a penalty early in the second half when Pepe fouled Fernando Torres. Pepe was furious and said to me in perfect English: ‘Never a penalty, Mark.’ I said to him: ‘Your first goal shouldn’t have stood.’ It shut him up.
“But he was a wind-up merchant and not fun to referee one bit, you had to be on your guard constantly.”
Clattenburg’s final pick is motivated by a personal grudge more than anything, with John Obi Mikel’s false racism accusations bothering the former official to this day.
“I have picked Mikel because of the incident during a Chelsea v Manchester United match in 2012 when he accused me of making a racist comment, which was not right and I was later cleared by the FA,” he said.
“He has never apologised and that is disappointing because it could have ruined my life. I fell out of love with refereeing for a while after that but couldn’t quit because I had a family to support and no other career to pursue.
“It all left a bad feeling that still lingers today.”