Mark Clattenburg

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Mark Clattenburg heads to China as head of officiating

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Mark Clattenburg left England last year at the peak of his refereeing career for a big-money move to Saudi Arabia, and it appears he has his next high-profile move sorted as well.

The recognizable referee announced he has signed on to become Head of the Referee Division and Future Development of Referees for the Chinese Super League after the expiry of his contract at his previous role. He will return to the field in this new role, refereeing Chinese Super League matches as well as overseeing the league’s officials.

“I am excited by the new challenge,” Clattenburg said in the announcement. “The Chinese Super League has grown markedly in recent years and they want the standard of refereeing to grow with it.”

The Chinese Super League has been a popular destination for big-name players nearing the end of their peak years and looking to cash in on one final contract, with players like Javier Mascherano, Paulinho, Graziano Pelle, Oscar, Hulk, and Yannick Carrasco all currently plying their trade in the Far East. Marouane Fellaini and Mousa Dembele both just recently moved from Premier League clubs to the Chinese league. “I’m looking forward to being part of [the league’s growth],” Clattenburg said. “You look at the quality of the players, so many in the peak of their career, and it is clear to see the ambition of the league and the clubs within it.”

Clattenburg was considered the top Premier League official when he retired from on-field duties in 2017, having previously taken charge of both Champions League and Euro finals, and was in line to represent England at the World Cup before abruptly calling time on his career. He transitioned to an overseer role in Saudi Arabia where he replaced Howard Webb and was able to coach officials and also give his opinion on on-field matters. He will now return to the field as part of his new role in China, a surprising development given it seemed he was finished with active refereeing when he departed the Premier League. That leaves the door open to a possible return to officiating in England down the road, and maybe in continental competitions as well.

The move also opens the door to foreign officials refereeing domestic matches outside their home country, not something previously thought of as a common occurrence.

WATCH: Clattenburg on Mohamed Salah simulation controversy

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Longtime Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg joined the NBCSN crew before Sunday’s action to discuss a topic that’s been growing in relevance the past few weeks: Mohamed Salah and diving.

The Egyptian superstar has won several controversial penalties in the past few match days, and referees appear to be closely monitoring Salah.

[ RECAP: Liverpool 4-3 Palace ]

The Liverpool man was not awarded a penalty for a clear dive in Saturday’s 7-goal thriller with Crystal Palace, a match in which he was up for Man of the Match consideration for sensational play apart from any perceived simulation.

Clattenburg argues that Salah was fortunate not to receive a yellow in that situation, and notes a pattern in the player’s behavior: He goes down if the foul or perceived foul is in a non-scoring situation, but stays up if it’s outside the box or there’s a chance he could get a goal.

Liverpool fans will almost surely disagree given the evidence, but the argument is otherwise quite strong. There’s a difference between diving and simulation/exaggeration, and there’s little doubt the latter has become a part of Salah’s game (perhaps due to the increasing amount of defensive attention and fouling headed his way).

VIDEO: Clattenburg stops game in Saudi Arabia for call to prayer

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It is unlikely former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg had come across this situation before.

Now refereeing in Saudi Arabia, where he is the Head of Refereeing, Clattenburg stopped a Saudi Kings Cup game on Wednesday between teams Al Feiha and Al Fateh due to the call to prayer.

The evening prayer occurred five minutes into extra time with the teams locked at 1-1 at the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Sport City Stadium. Some players left the pitch while others stretched and took a sip of water as they waited for play to resume.

Al Feiha scored in the 118th minute to win the game 2-1, in case you were wondering.

The response to Clattenburg’s decision has been hugely positive from fans in Saudi Arabia who praised his decision to show respect for the call to prayer by delaying the game.

Below is the video of the moment the prayer from a nearby mosque was heard and Clattenburg blew his whistle to halt the game.

Men In Blazers podcast: Former PL ref Mark Clattenburg joins the show

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Rog talks with former Premier League, Champions League and Euro 2016 referee Mark Clattenburg about the psychology of officiating, mentally coping with errors in-game, dealing with abuse from coaches, and life as English football’s first “Rock Star Referee.”

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Report: Clattenburg returning to Premier League

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Four days later…

It has not been long since Mark Clattenburg last officiated a Premier League match, instead opting to take a job in Saudi Arabia.

Perhaps the move was a power play, because “Clatts” looks set to work his new job and return to his old stamping grounds for a minimum of four games.

The Sun’s Neil Ashton threw out this Tweet on Monday.

[ MORE: UCL Tuesday preview ]

All refs have detractors, but Clattenburg has a solid record in the PL and was awarded with spots officiating the finals of the UEFA Champions League, EURO 2016, and the FA Cup.

Maybe Riley and PGMOL didn’t expect Clattenburg to follow through with his threats to leave town, and it’s fair to presume he’s been rewarded handsomely.