Taking referees to the top

At UEFA's winter course in Athens, UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina has advised new European international referees on the qualities needed for a successful career.

Courage to take responsibility for decisions ... assiduous preparation ... confidence in one's ability and the capacity to learn from mistakes ... and the strength to cope with difficult moments. Just some of the catalogue of qualities required by today's top men and women referees.

Newcomers to the FIFA international list were given a comprehensive insight into what it takes to reach the summit as a match official by someone who has been there – UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina – at the 24th UEFA Introductory Course for International Referees in Athens.

Collina, who took charge of the 2002 FIFA World Cup final, 1999 UEFA Champions League final and 2004 UEFA Cup final as well as countless other big matches in a distinguished refereeing career, offered the benefit of his vast experience to the 53 new European men and women match officials in a passionate hour-long presentation.

"The referee's job is a difficult one," he stressed. "You have less than half a second to take a decision, often under heavy pressure and the scrutiny of the public and media. Your decisions can affect not only sporting results but may have an economic impact. So a referee has to embrace responsibility. You have to know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses. You must seek to improve until your very last refereeing assignment – and stay open to changes."

Collina emphasised just how important it is for a leading referee to prepare properly, in terms of keeping fit – "today's top referee must be an athlete," he said – and with respect to being aware of the teams they are refereeing. "If you study the teams' tactics, and individual players' characteristics, you can stay one step ahead in being able to make decisions in match situations. It is not simply the will to win that makes the difference – it is the will to prepare. If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail."

Physical fitness is a key element of a top official's armour in the high-intensity, high-pressure football of today. "Players make mistakes at the end of matches because they are tired," Collina reflected, "and this can also happen to referees. You must be able to remain lucid even in the very closing stages of a match because you don't know what will happen," he added, recalling his own experience as referee of the memorable 1999 UEFA Champions League final, when Manchester United FC's two goals in the dying moments earned them a remarkable success over FC Bayern München in Barcelona.

Collina urged the referees to protect the game as well as the players – and to protect themselves. "We do not want to see players' careers endangered because of a risky tackle by an opponent, nor can we accept the mobbing of a referee by players," he underlined. Another essential aspect of a referee's need to prepare was to ensure thorough knowledge of the Laws of the Game. "On the field, the referee is the person who guarantees that a match is being played in accordance with the rules," Collina explained, "and you must know the rules and their updated interpretation to be able to take correct decisions."

How should referees react to making an error? "You need to think forward and forget [an error] during the match," was Collina's advice. "The moment is gone. After the match, learn from the mistake, find the reason behind it – try and turn a negative moment into a positive experience, it will make you stronger."

The crucial ingredient of teamwork, mutual motivation and support between a referee and his assistants was a vital component in successful performances, with the UEFA newcomers asked to always bear in mind that a referee is not in a position to deal with a match alone. Talent, Collina said, may win games, but teamwork was central to winning championships.

"You must be self-confident and trust in yourself," Collina said in concluding his presentation to the new European referees. "Congratulations on coming this far – you have dreams of being a top referee ... and UEFA is here to try and help you achieve that dream."

 

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