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From PL to Middle East: What’s Michael Oliver Doing Refereeing Matches in Saudi Arabia?

From PL to Middle East: What’s Michael Oliver Doing Refereeing Matches in Saudi Arabia?

Cristiano Ronaldo saw his night go from bad to worse in Al-Nassr’s huge Saudi Pro League clash against Al Hilal on Tuesday.

Not only did he see his side go down to a bitter 2-0 loss, which impacted their title charge, but Ronaldo was also haunted by Premier League referee Michael Oliver.

Indeed, the English official was the one to take charge of the intense Saudi Pro League clash and had an eventful outing in the Gulf nation. Oliver oversaw a pretty heated clash between the two Saudi rivals and dished out seven yellow cards as well as two penalties in a chaotic game.

Why did Michael Oliver book Cristiano Ronaldo?

However, the spotlight turned on him when he decided to book the Saudi Pro League MVP Ronaldo in the second half. The Portuguese forward was growing increasingly frustrated at being man-marked by the Al Hilal players and not getting enough service in the final third.

In a bit of a heated moment, Ronaldo lost his mind and clamped down an opposition player while duelling for the ball. He ended up putting the opposition player n a bit of a headlock and smashing him down on the ground right in front of Oliver.

The English referee had no choice but to show him a yellow card for a dangerous foul and Ronaldo didn’t really complain about it either. Ronaldo probably knows Oliver all too well, having seen him officiate quite a few games during the Portuguese forward’s stint at Manchester United.

In fact, Oliver also booked Ronaldo in the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford in the 2021/22 season, in which Manchester City ran rampant with a 2-0 win. Cristiano lost his mind on that occasion as well, making a dangerous foul for which he was probably lucky not to be sent off.

He’s also been in the good books of Oliver at times. He actually praised the Englishman for sending Gianluigi Buffon off in Real Madrid’s win over Juventus in the 2017/18 Champions League quarter-finals second leg and awarding him the decisive penalty that helped Los Blancos win the tie on a 4-3 aggregate.

Why was Michael Oliver refereeing in Saudi Pro League?

Many fans were utterly bamboozled to see an experienced referee like Oliver, who is mostly seen in Premier League or Champions League games, officiate a match in the Saudi Pro League.

Well, Oliver is a part of UEFA’s Elite Group of Referees as well as the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials Limited) thanks to his consistent work in recent years. The Saudi Pro League organizers have a partnership with UEFA as well as the Premier League, which allows them to occasionally bring in referees from other countries to officiate high-profile league games.

Of course, the referees are paid for their travels to Saudi Arabia and officiating the matches by the Saudi organizers themselves. Oliver took time off the Champions League to officiate this intense game, in which he awarded Al Hilal two penalties that was scored by ex-Manchester United forward Odion Ighalo.

Oliver, of course, isn’t the only high-profile foreign referee to officiate a Saudi Pro League game this season. Spaniard Matheus Lahoz, who was riddled with controversy for his poor management of the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals between Argentina and the Netherlands last year – which got him slammed by Lionel Messi – has also moved to Saudi Arabia to officiate the league’s matches.

Michael Oliver definitely had an eventful trip to Saudi, which ended with him breaking the Ronaldo fans’ hearts by booking him and seeing out a game that leaves Al-Nassr three points behind Saudi Pro League leaders Al Ittihad (who have a game in hand) heading into the final stretch of the campaign.