Assistant referees are having to change with the times as football maintains its constant evolution - and Europe's elite have proved that they are relishing the challenge at UEFA's winter course in Majorca.
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More than 70 top assistant referees from across the continent have spent a week in Majorca at their latest UEFA winter course. They’ve received a glowing reference from UEFA Referees Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti for the quality of their work, their flexibility in adapting to football’s development, and their determination to get better with each game.
Rosetti gave us an insight into the vital role played by assistant referees, and the challenges that those who 'run the line' face in their quest for excellence.
UEFA.com: Why did UEFA convene the assistant referees in Majorca?
Roberto Rosetti: We’ve a very busy few months ahead of us - we’re not far away from the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League knockout phases, and the UEFA EURO 2020 tournament follows in the summer. Some of the assistants will be part of refereeing teams at that tournament. So, we brought them all together to fine-tune preparations for the important assignments that are coming up.
UEFA.com: This certainly emphasises the importance that UEFA gives to assistant referees…
Rosetti: It’s true that their job is becoming increasingly important in modern-day elite football, so it’s vital that we work together on the various facets of the Laws of the Game, and look to achieve a common goal of maximum consistency in the referee team’s on-field decision-making.
UEFA.com: What were the specific topics covered during the week in Majorca?
Rosetti: First of all, we tested the assistants’ fitness, in particular their sprinting and sideways movement – happily, everyone came through the tests successfully. In practical sessions, we looked at a broad range of topics – offside and its interpretation, handball, and so forth…the assistants worked in groups to analyse video clips of incidents from UEFA matches over the past few months – we encouraged them to give us feedback not only on the incidents and decisions taken, but also to reflect on the broader aspects of their role.
UEFA.com: Was the video assistant referee (VAR) system on the agenda?
Rosetti: Of course, because it’s now an integral part of the game, and assistant referees are making a crucial contribution to the success and further development of the system. In Majorca, the assistants took part in simulator exercises for various situations, and were asked to react and give decisions.
UEFA.com: Are you happy with the way that the assistant referees have adapted to the VAR system?
Rosetti: We’re very satisfied, because the assistants have had to adjust their role – for example, they’ve been instructed to delay raising their flag in certain situations, whereas previously, they would have raised their flag immediately. Football is changing, refereeing is changing, and we’ve seen that the assistants have fully understood the need to adapt as well. They’ve shown an open-mindedness at the course in reacting positively to such developments.
UEFA.com: The assistant referees seem determined to match UEFA’s drive to raise standards
Rosetti: We’re consistently looking to improve the quality of the assistants, and they are keeping pace with our demands. We’re extremely impressed with their work ethic and preparation – and their desire to achieve peak performance. They’re being given the best possible training by UEFA, we continually monitor their progress…and, to their credit, they’re responding to the challenge.
UEFA.com: How important is teamwork between a referee and the assistants on the field of play?
Rosetti: It’s absolutely crucial. They must work together as a solid, focussed and professional team, in terms of both on-field communication and decision-making. We’re encouraging referee teams to become like ‘families’ – it’s not just about how they perform on the field; they form bonds, spending time together off the field, travelling to matches, talking about refereeing. There’s no doubt that creating a close relationship and a genuine team spirit is a key ingredient for success.
UEFA.com: Finally, what do you think are the major improvements that assistant referees have made in recent years?
Rosetti: Firstly, they’ve been able to keep up with the development of football at the highest level. Secondly, along with the referees, they’ve become 100% athletes – they’re total professionals, they look after themselves, and have understood that they can only do their job with the right preparation, attitude and approach. Thirdly, they’ve taken on board our advice that they should improve their reading of the game and understand specific situations in a match. This all means that our assistant referees are in an increasingly ideal position to successfully fulfil their role – to give the highest quality support to referees on and away from the pitch.