German referee Riem Hussein is determined to produce a performance to match the occasion when she takes charge of Sunday’s UEFA Women’s Champions League final between Chelsea and Barcelona in Gothenburg.
Article top media content
“If no one speaks about me, then I’m happy….” Riem Hussein confirms one of refereeing’s golden rules – namely, that if a referee’s match performance isn’t being debated, then the official has done a good job.
“I’m extremely proud,” the 40-year old pharmacist from the town of Bad Harzburg in Lower Saxony says of her first assignment to referee a major international final. “There are a lot of great UEFA referees who would also have deserved the appointment for this match. I feel honoured to have UEFA’s trust – I hope that I can pay back this trust with my performance. I’d like people to think that I was the right choice.”
Hussein has gathered considerable experience at the highest levels since she gained her international badge in 2009. She was a member of the referee groups at UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 in the Netherlands and FIFA Women’s World Cup in France two years ago, and has already tasted the special atmosphere of a UEFA Women’s Champions League final as fourth official for the game between Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain in 2017. “That was an enjoyable experience,” she reflects. “But being out in the middle this time is obviously one step further.”
In 2015, Hussein took another giant leap forward on her career pathway when she began refereeing in the German men’s national third division – the second female match official after Bibiana Steinhaus to be assigned duties at the higher levels of the men’s game in Germany.
From scoring goals to refereeing
A player in the German national women’s second flight until 2005, Hussein says that her character led her towards refereeing. “I played for MTV Wolfenbüttel as a striker, and scored goals regularly,” she explains. “I complained a lot to the referees – I always thought I could do better! But I needed to know what I was talking about – so I studied for refereeing qualifications, and I found that I really enjoyed it.”
“We played on Sundays, and whenever possible, I acted as a referee or assistant referee on Fridays or Saturdays. People saw something with me, they supported me, and thanks to their trust, I gained confidence and felt I could make a career in refereeing.”
The switch proved so successful that Hussein began refereeing German women’s second-division matches in 2005, and top-flight women’s matches the following year. In 2010, she officiated at the German women’s domestic cup final, and has been named Germany’s female referee of the year three times, in 2013, 2016 and 2020.
Another former German female referee, Antje Witteweg – an experienced FIFA official herself – proved to be a crucial guiding light, and is the recipient of Hussein’s undying gratitude. “She was the one who told me I had talent,” Hussein remembers. “She accompanied me in my first year in the second division as a referee, and she helped to push me forward. I’ve so much to thank her for.”
Key refereeing skills
Hussein emphasises that her spell as a footballer helped her to adapt quickly to refereeing. “Referees need a feeling for football,” she says. “It’s a big advantage if they’ve been players. Then you also need a good physical condition, endurance, stamina and anticipation.”
“Management skills are extremely important – if you can show respect, players will respect you. It’s about using your personality at the right moment. It’s essential to be mentally prepared as well, because you know that anything can happen. The first situation in a match could be the most difficult.”
Hussein’s career progress has run parallel to the impressive rise of elite women’s football. She is relishing the opportunity to feature in the evolution which will see the UEFA Women’s Champions League kick off the 2021/22 season with a new format, including a 16-team group stage, as well as greater visibility and exposure through centralised TV and marketing.
Rising with the women’s game
“The players have much more possibilities in their clubs,” she reflects. “There are professional players in top-division clubs. They have dedicated physios, great pitches, medical care. Players don’t need to take another job, to combine work and football, so they can focus more on football, which makes the game faster, and the players fitter and more resilient. Many players are gaining international experience in clubs abroad, and this helps their national teams progress – so women's football is only going one way.”
“I’m a supporter of the new Women’s Champions League format – the group stage is a great thing, because there won’t only be important knockout matches. There’s going to be more interest, because the number of big matches will increase.”
How does Hussein compare refereeing men’s and women’s matches? “I don’t prepare any differently – for me, it’s still just football,” she insists. “In men's football, the speed and intensity are both higher, so it's more demanding in physical terms. But as I’ve already said, women's matches are becoming more demanding too – teams are getting increasingly fitter and better organised as well.”
“Refereeing is a team sport”
Hussein’s next big date comes at Gamla Ullevi in Gothenburg on Sunday, in the highly-valued company of her team – assistant referees Katrin Rafalski (Germany) and Sara Telek (Austria), fourth official Katalin Kulcsár (Hungary), video assistant referee Bastian Dankert (Germany), assistant VAR Christian Dingert (Germany) and reserve assistant referee Julia Magnusson (Sweden). “You can’t be successful as a referee on your own,” she says. “Refereeing is a team sport for me. We all need to be on the same level, to work together, speak together and help each other. There’ll be 100% concentration, especially because of the importance of the match.”
Riem Hussein will have time before Sunday’s showpiece outing in Sweden to reflect on how she has reached the refereeing summits. “I know that, as a player, I would never have achieved what I have achieved as a referee,” she admits. “Refereeing has given me the opportunity to be part of this game in an important role, to take part in big matches. I feel more than privileged…and, sometimes, it feels like a dream.”