Michael Oliver has already officiated a Saudi Arabian professional league match. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine
The Saudi Football Federation contacted us. Leading English Premier League referees, including Michael Oliver, as well as Szymon Marciniak, who officiated the World Cup final last December, on the prospect of taking over the new Saudi professional league.
Approaches so far were perceived as informal, although the Saudis are keen to appoint the best magistrates in the same way they have pursued the game's best players in their remarkable series of acquisitions during this year.
Recruiting is in charge of former FIFA official Manuel Navarro, a Swiss national who worked in the world governing body's refereeing department for eight years before moving to the Saudi federation in July 2020. He is currently the Chairman of SAFF. Navarro's Umpires Association was first brought in to bring Saudi officials into line, but the league's ambitions have moved forward.
The issue of contracts and wages has not yet been discussed, but the Premier League is well aware that it now faces the possibility of some of its leading officials receiving attractive offers. Referee body PGMOL, which is co-owned by the Premier League, Football League and Football Association, has allowed its officials to work freelance for major games in the Middle East if asked.
Oliver took charge of the Saudi Pro League match between Al Nasr and Al Hilal in April and was back in the United Arab Emirates this week in charge of the league game between Sharjah and Al Ain. He was accompanied by an English team of officials. This trip was signed by Howard Webb, PGMOL's Chief Judge, who himself served as SAFF's Director of Judges for two years until 2017.
Meanwhile, an independent panel of former players and managers convened by the Premier League to assess the performance of referees ruled that Darren England was wrong for not changing his decision to punish Crystal Palace's Chris Richards for his tackle on Ollie Watkins this month. The KMI panel was set up by the Premier League to judge PGMOL officials and included former England players including Rob Green and Karen Carney.
Aston Villa striker Watkins was awarded a penalty by England . Villa Park on September 16 to Richards' call. Ware sent England to the observer to reconsider the decision, and after five minutes of mulling over the footage, he stood by his original decision. The commission voted 4-1 that it should change. The panel also voted 3-2 that Sander Berge's handball, which disallowed Burnley's winning goal against Nottingham Forest, should have been disallowed and the goal upheld.
Unfortunately for England, he was the best player on the pitch. The man on duty that day supported referee Robert Jones. However, the panel concluded that the referee and War's review made the correct decision to award Luton Town a penalty for João Pedro's handball in their draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers.