Europe's new international referees have been encouraged by UEFA to reach for the top as they set out on their career pathway – with hard work, fitness and a professional attitude to preparation key to their success.
Article top media content
You need talent to be a top referee – but you need to work hard to make it to the top. That is the message given by UEFA to the group of new international male and female referees currently taking their first steps on the European football stage.
Forty-eight match officials who have gained their international badge – 34 men and 14 women – have been in Malta for UEFA's winter introductory course to familiarise themselves with their duties as a European referee.
They will leave the Mediterranean island with a full picture of what is expected of them as they embark on this important stage of their careers.
"We are looking for excellence," they were told by UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina, himself a veteran of a host of high-profile matches in an outstanding refereeing career.
"You're here in Malta because you have showed that you are talented. But you have to put the work in as well if you want to succeed."
The quest for excellence for a top referee involves a variety of elements, starting with the fitness required to be able to cope with the demands of the modern high-level game.
"Football nowadays is played with high speed and intensity, so the referee needs to be a top-fit athlete," Collina explained. "Referees might be called upon at the end of a match to take a decision which could affect the final result, so they have to remain lucid. Tiredness can't be an excuse for a wrong decision.
"Referees have to know their strengths and weaknesses in terms of their physical condition, and should be ready to work on those weaknesses," he added. "We need them to be fit and in good health, so preventing injuries is also very important. We want them on the pitch rathen than lying on a physiotherapist's couch."
Collina emphasised how Europe's current-day elite referees were setting a splendid example by putting in the hard yards to increase their fitness levels and improve their body shape.
"We are proud of them," he told the officials. "Because they present a good image alongside the players on the field. We ask you to show the same commitment."
Allied to physical preparation is the increasingly crucial factor of tactical preparation for a match, to help referees take correct decisions in key situations.
Referees are encouraged by UEFA to study the teams and players who they will be managing on the field, and the European body is deploying match analysts – qualified and experienced coaches – to brief the referees in major men's and women's national team tournaments and club competitions.
Anticipation is the byword. "In football today, referees need to know beforehand what is going to happen in matches – they must stay one step ahead," Collina said. "They can't justify a mistake by saying that they were surprised.
"So they need to gather information about team tactics and player characteristics. It's often the case that teams will use the same tactics in every match, especially at corners and free-kicks. Referees can find out quite easily now if teams use zonal or man-to-man marking, for instance. Which players do what … this preparation will definitely stand them in good stead."
The referees were given vital advice about the mental strength they need to overcome a mistake. "Even the best referees can make errors – they are human, they are not perfect," Collina reflected. "But the target must be to minimise mistakes, in particular those which might affect the outcome of a match.
"Referees and their assistants must be able to put mistakes to the back of their mind, particularly in the early stages of a match. They have to be able to move on to the next decision in a match – and, of course, after the match they should learn from mistakes. If they understand the reason behind the mistake they become stronger people as a result."
Collina insisted on the importance of teamwork between a referee and assistants. "Even the most talented referee needs to rely on his team-mates," he explained.
"The final overall performance of the referees depends on the overall performance of each individual member of the team. So prepare for matches as a team, support, encourage and motivate each other in every situation."
Collina closed by urging the new referees to be confident in their work. "Trust in yourselves," he said.
"If you can say to yourself that you've worked hard, that you've prepared in every way, that you've done your absolute best, you're on the right path forward. And UEFA is here to help you succeed."