Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg named Chelsea hero John Obi Mikel among a list of five players he had the biggest run-ins with.
Clattenburg was a top-level official in England for 13 years, also taking charge of the Euro 2016 final, the Champions League final and the FA Cup final.
He was widely regarded as one of the best officials of his generation, but also had a number of run-ins with players.
A few years ago, Clattenburg was asked to name the five players who he clashed with most, with Mikel one of those to feature.
Mikel spent 11 years in the Premier League playing for Chelsea and had one major run-in with Clattenburg, who named four other stars he fell foul of.
Clattenburg included former Chelsea midfielder Mikel in his list due to an incident during a clash with Manchester United in 2012.
Mikel had accused Clattenburg of making a racist comment but was given a three-match ban and fined £60,000 for threatening the referee after being charged with misconduct by the FA.
“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,” Clattenburg told the Daily Mail in 2020.
“Other Chelsea players have since apologised but nothing from Mikel. He had the chance to say sorry and speak to me about it during a Nigeria friendly in the United States before the World Cup in 2014, and I would have welcomed that, but nothing, sadly.”
Mikel though has insisted he has nothing to apologise for, as it was teammate Ramires who made the claim about Clattenburg using racist language.
“In the heat of the game, players go through emotions. Your colleague said they heard something, but they may not have heard right. Did he say it or not? I didn’t know,” Mikel told The Athletic in 2021.
“But if your colleague comes up to you, of course, you’re going to trust what they say, someone, you see and speak to every day. So I can’t apologise for something that my colleague said he (Clattenburg) did.”
Also near the top of Clattenburg’s list was former Newcastle United, Manchester City and Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy. Bellamy earned a reputation for his relationship, or lack thereof, with referees.
And Clattenburg was no different, branding the former attacker “plain rude”.
He also recalled one incident when Bellamy grabbed his private parts in the tunnel ahead of a game.
“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. Bellamy was a nightmare to referee and most of us felt the same. His language was awful, just plain rude,” he said.
Unsurprisingly, legendary Manchester United captain Roy Keane also features on Clattenburg’s list.
The Irishman was notoriously fiery on the pitch, with Clattenburg admitting he was unpredictable.
“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,” he said.
“He always came across as stone-cold and wanted to be the hard man. That causes problems for referees because the ego kicks in and it becomes a fight like it did between him and Patrick Vieira.”
Clattenburg also admitted to finding former Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann difficult to referee. He pointed to the German’s “antics” and constant whinging, which left the former referee unhappy.
“He was just so irritable and never stopped, one of those miserable blokes who would whinge about everything and everyone,” Clattenburg said.
“But he would do snidey, little things himself that made it difficult and I didn’t enjoy refereeing him at all. He was erratic and his antics were not easy to deal with.”
The only player on Clattenburg’s blacklist to have played solely outside the Premier League was former Real Madrid star Pepe.
The duo came across each other in the Champions League, with the defender earning a reputation for his on-pitch antics.
Their most high-profile run-in came in the Champions League final in 2016. Pepe had attempted to get an Atletico Madrid player sent off, a trick Clattenburg did not fall for.
“He was another player you just couldn’t trust,” he said. “A game could be easy and straightforward then he would do something sly. He was a wind-up merchant and not fun to referee one bit.”