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Reaching the refereeing summit: What does it take?

UEFA has unveiled the second episode of its new four-part series – ‘Man in the Middle’ – examining the personal and professional lives of Europe’s top referees. Read about the psychology of refereeing, a crucial issue featured in this second episode, in the first of a two-part article.

Ambassadors protecting football’s image…guardians of football’s laws…managers of people and impartial decision-makers on the field…lovers of football.

Europe’s elite referees are a special breed who undertake one of the toughest jobs in the modern-day game.

‘Man in the Middle’, a new four-part UEFA.tv series currently being released in weekly episodes, gives a unique insight into the personal and professional lives of 16 top referees over an 18-month period from February 2019 to August 2020 – highlighting in particular what it takes to be a match official in the UEFA Champions League.

WATCH EPISODE TWO OF 'MAN IN THE MIDDLE'

Episode two, released on Monday, takes an in-depth look into the psychology of refereeing - why referees take up the role, and how they have to learn to deal with the various pressures and demands of the job.

In the first of a two-part series of extracts from Episode two, we focus on how referees become referees, how they cope with pressure, and the social and psychological influence on referees, through the thoughts and words of:

- Stuart Carrington, English university lecturer and author of the book Blowing The Whistle: The Psychology of Football Refereeing

- Roberto Rosetti, chairman of UEFA’s Referees Committee

- UEFA Champions League referees Björn Kuipers (Netherlands), Ovidiu Hațegan (Romania), Szymon Marciniak (Poland) and Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)

What makes a referee?

Stuart Carrington: "There is no set criteria for the sort of person that needs to be a referee, and there’s definitely no overriding trend. I guess the one theme, if you like, that all referees will have is a love of the game, and that can’t be underestimated."

Feeling the passion

Ovidi Hategan awards a penalty to Jadon Sancho of Dortmund
Ovidi Hategan awards a penalty to Jadon Sancho of Dortmund

Roberto Rosetti: "Football was my life, and at the beginning, refereeing was just an experience, and then it became more and more of a thing that I really enjoyed.

I think that for a 16-year-old boy, going onto the field of play and making decisions, alone, in the middle of a football match, with 22 players, parents, spectators, is a good school of life for making decisions."

Ovidiu Hațegan: "On the other side of my street, we had a pitch, so I was lucky because every day when I went out of the house, I would see the pitch. I was in love, immediately.

When I was 14 or 15, a colleague - his father was a referee back then, and he insisted: 'Come on, let’s do the course.' I said: 'Why? I don’t want to be a referee; I don’t like being a referee.' He convinced me, and I did the course; it lasted almost five months. The first moment that I held a whistle in my hand, and I blew the whistle, I really liked it, so I said: 'Wow! It’s really nice, it’s a different way of seeing football', but I loved it."

Gianluca Rocchi: "I became a referee because my passion for football was at a very, very high level. Without passion, it’s impossible to do anything."

Total focus – coping with pressure

Rosetti: "When you are on the field of play, you are totally focused on what’s going on … so the only point is really to make the correct decisions. You don’t care about pressure, you don’t care about all of what is around football, and you are professional.

"You have no time to think, you just have to be in the perfect position, and to see, and then to make decisions…only this."

Björn Kuipers: "I think all top athletes, all top sportspeople are under a certain amount of pressure, they need a certain amount of pressure, because if they don’t feel the pressure they cannot perform.

"Everybody needs a certain amount of stress to perform. It’s the same with top referees. I’ve been a referee for 30 years already, so if you get older and more experienced, you can deal with more pressure. When I was a younger referee, it was much harder to deal with this pressure."

Decision-makers…and human beings

Gianluca Rocchi refereed Chelsea vs Ajax last season
Gianluca Rocchi refereed Chelsea vs Ajax last season

Carrington: "Making decisions, for a referee, is essentially what they’re there for. And referees are very aware that their job is to make decisions that may not be popular. Regarding whether it’s harder or more difficult to make two decisions in quick succession, I believe the answer is yes, it is harder. And the reason is because of the social influence that a referee may perceive that they’re going to have or receive as a consequence.

"When a referee goes onto a football pitch, they are impartial. However, they are human beings and that means that there’s a certain social influence, but there’s also a psychological influence on them.

"If 60,000 people are shouting for something, you might want to be seen as impartial,

because if you don’t, you might be worried that the home crowd are going to go away thinking that you favoured the away team. And that’s the social influence on a referee."

Szymon Marciniak: "We are not robots, we are only humans… Even after so many games, there’s always something we can make better and we can improve."

Rocchi: "I think that every time you are on the field of play, you are exactly the same man as you are off the field of play. You can’t change anything. If every decision, you are ready to make the decision, then you are free.

"‘Free’ is a very important word. It means whistling what you see, not whistling what you see and thinking about it. So, when you whistle ‘free’ and when you speak with the players ‘free’, without problems, I think everyone can accept you. I think this is the best approach for the referee."

Watch episode two of 'Man in the Middle' now

Catch up on episode one here