Europe's leading referees – the international newcomers and those that have reached the summit of the profession – have gone away from their UEFA winter courses in Malta refreshed and ready for the challenges that await them this spring and summer.
Together with the UEFA Referees Committee, a total of 103 referees attended either the 18th UEFA Advanced Course for Elite and Premier Referees or the 19th Introductory Course for International Referees, staged on the Mediterranean island during a memorable period for Maltese football. The recent UEFA Executive Committee meeting coincided with celebrations to mark 100 years of national football competitions played on the island, and 50 years of full membership of UEFA and the world body FIFA.
The introductory course gave the rookie referees on the FIFA list a crucial and comprehensive insight into taking charge of European matches. They took the full FIFA fitness test and other physical assessments, guided by UEFA referee fitness expert Werner Helsen and his team, and were asked to show their prowess in English, which is now the common refereeing language.
A key focal point of the introductory course was decision-making and positional advice, not only through theoretical sessions using UEFA match footage, but also in a practical session at the excellent Malta Football Association (MFA) training installations. Under the watchful eye of FIFA/UEFA instructors Valentin Ivanov and Steve Bennett, the new referees practised their judgement, positioning and card decisions in exercises dealing with player simulation.
The advanced course featured referees who are used to officiating at top games throughout Europe and the world, many of whom are candidates to referee at this summer's FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Participants on the advanced course were given an introduction to the current experiment involving additional assistant referees by Donald McVicar, representing football's lawmakers the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and FIFA representative Fernando Tresaco.
The experiment, endorsed by both FIFA and the IFAB, is taking place in this season's UEFA Europa League. In addition to the referee, two assistant referees and the fourth official, two additional assistant referees take up positions alongside each goal, with the mission of focusing on incidents happening in the penalty area, such as fouls or misconduct. Clips from UEFA Europa League group matches were used to offer the advanced referees an insight into what they will experience when some of them referee UEFA Europa League knockout games in the spring.
Protecting the players from over-zealous challenges, and severely punishing simulation as well as holding, pulling and pushing in the penalty area, will remain a key duty for UEFA's referees in the second half of the European season – as will the on-field management qualities required to handle dissent and incidents of confrontation.
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