Arbitration – Ligue 1 – Kimpembe affair: Are PSG and the big clubs favored by the referees?


It’s a little music that is played at regular intervals in Ligue 1 and the VAR hasn’t changed anything. The idea that the big clubs, Paris, Lyon and Marseille, benefit from the leniency of an arbitration that is complacent with them and intransigent with the unranked. Two events have put the debate back on the table in recent weeks. First, the terrible anger of Jean-Pierre Caillot, president of Reims, when his team finished ten against eleven against Lyon, conceded a draw (1-1) and was deprived of a penalty: « This expulsion of Dion Lopy, it hurts and it breaks the game. I know that the small clubs have to go down this year, but they are fed up. And I am convinced that if it is Paris Saint-Germain or Lyon who are at fault in the area, there is a penalty.« 
Last Sunday, Michel Der Zakarian played the same verse. In question, a nasty tackle from Presnel Kimpembe, already warned, followed by a gesture of humor with the unsanctioned referee. « He must take a card, minimum yellow. If he takes yellow, he is out since he has already taken one. If it’s us, we’re out. But this is Paris.“The big players in Ligue 1, mainly including Paris, Marseille and Lyon, would therefore be refereed with more leniency in view of their status. Pure fantasy or real reality? The truth is undoubtedly somewhere between the two.

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If it is a young person who makes the sole of Kimpembe, he takes a red

Alain Perrin experienced both positions. Coach of Nancy, he also presided over the destiny of the great Olympique Lyonnais in 2007 and 2008, when the Gones, multiple champions of France in title, crushed everything in their path and were criticized for arbitration decisions a little too benevolent to towards them by helpless adversaries.

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« At the end of the season, yes, it leans more in favor of the big clubs and the big starsslice the former coach. There is more leniency towards them. But there is no secret plan to favor them. Simply the balance of power between the referee and the players on the field is more often to the advantage of the big players. Of course, there are referees who want to be stars, but generally they are more severe with young and lesser-known players. It’s not deliberate at all but that’s how we protect the stars. If it is a young person who makes the sole of Kimpembe, he takes a red. »

Presnel Kimpembe (PSG), author of a terrible tackle but not sanctioned with a card

Credit: Getty Images

« It is out of the question that the referees try to favor this or that club, the referees are honest and fairrecalls Philippe Malige, former referee of L1 and L2. But after in the unconscious… It depends on the personality, the experience of the referee, the context. Indeed, in an overheated atmosphere, with players or coaches with big personalities, we cannot exclude that there is a difference being made. The rules are the same for everyone but the referee is a man. Unless you have the experience of Clément Turpin, it is indeed more difficult to referee OL with a president and a great atmosphere that puts pressure on you.« 

A question of context and dynamics?

Everything would therefore be a question of a context more favorable to the big clubs with more hostile supporters and stadiums, players or managers more used to putting pressure on the referees. « This is not the prerogative of the big clubs. In Montpellier, for example, we know how to put pressure very well« , reminds us of a former referee. But, naturally, the dominant teams have more of the ball, get more chances, go more often into the opposing box. So many reasons to whistle more in their favor. Jérémy Clément, former player from the great OL, from PSG but also from Saint-Etienne or Nancy, offers another explanation.

« I never had the feeling of having been favored when I was playing for the title in Lyonhe testifies. But I believe in the success of the leader and the misfortune of the last. It’s a question of dynamics. I never felt that the big club was deliberately favored. » Same story with Bruno Derrien, former international referee who defends his corporation: « There’s no hot plan to favor the big guys. Referees have only one goal: to do well. They are professional, noted. The big errors are seen and are sanctioned, the referees are noted. I have no doubts about the honesty of the referees.« 

Dimitri Payet (Marseille) furious with the referee against Lyon

Credit: AFP

We are humans, we too can give in to a form of pressure

It is probably not their probity that is at stake here but rather their ability, variable, to resist external influences which can increase depending on the size of the club they referee. « It’s like a penalty takerattempts to sum up Philippe Malige. In training, he can do a 20 out of 20. But when it comes to turning one into a World Cup final, the foot can shake and he can miss. A referee is the same. We are humans, we too can give in to a form of pressure.« 

Jérémie Pignard, referee of PSG-Brest last Saturday, did he give in to pressure from the Park? This is the opinion of Silas Billong, former player of Brest and Reims, converted as a fourth referee in the elite in the 2010s: « It’s a complicated situation when you referee PSG at the end of the match. If the referee puts red, he knows that he will be entitled to a controversy over several days, that he will potentially be singled out. Strategically, he may have unconsciously privileged his career to avoid controversyAvoid the magnifying glass effect of PSG matches by playing it safe in short. Problem, he did not avoid controversy and relaunch a debate as old as Ligue 1.

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