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Winter course: Helping referees read matches

Speaking at the winter gathering in Athens, UEFA's chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu encouraged referees to do their homework to help prepare for matches.

UEFA Winter course in Athens ©Sportsfile

Today's top referees are not only expected to be efficient managers of a football match – they are also being encouraged to learn as much as they can about the teams and players they are refereeing in their major European and domestic assignments.

At the 23rd UEFA Advanced Course for Top Referees and 24th UEFA Introductory Course for International Referees in Athens, UEFA is making a special point of advising its referees to prepare well.

"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," said UEFA chief referee officer Pierluigi Collina in a presentation in Athens earlier this week. It is felt to be an aspect of referees' preparation that is becoming increasingly essential in the modern-day game.

UEFA's chief technical officer Ioan Lupescu came to Greece to give his own experienced insight into why referees should try and learn how teams play to enhance their own performances.

Lupescu, who was capped 74 times by Romania over 12 years in a distinguished career as a player, not only spoke of the various tactical systems that teams use in the European club competitions, but also highlighted the trends in modern-day top-level football – all with an eye to assisting the referees to improve even further. "I am sure that knowing about the teams will help you as referees," he said.

The UEFA chief technical officer stressed the need for referees to be in the peak of physical condition to be able to cope with the high-quality and pacy transition play and counterattacks that characterise today's football. "All teams use rapid counterattacks," said Lupescu, "and there are teams who base their entire tactical set-up around such tactics."

Referees on winter course
Referees on winter course

Individual runs and dribbles, two or three quick passes forward and long passes behind the opposition are the weapons used to unlock defences, and Lupescu supported his point by telling the referees that 34 of the 171 goals scored in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil last summer – 20% of the overall total – came from counterattacks and quick transitions.

Another trend identified by Lupescu was sides' use of the cutback – an offensive pass played backwards from, or close to, the attacking goal line to create a goalscoring chance. "In the UEFA Champions League, goals scored from cutbacks almost doubled from 15 in 2009/10 to 28 in 2010/11, and increased again to 38 in 2012/13," he said. "At the end of the group stage this year, 20 goals had already been scored from cutbacks."

Referees training in Athens
Referees training in Athens©Sportsfile

Wing play has also developed in recent years, with a notable point being that while teams may have played with two wingers in the past, many were now playing not only with two wingers, but with two full-backs ready to move forward and join attacks.

With referees now being assisted in the major UEFA competitions by additional assistant referees in relation to penalty-area activity, Lupescu explained the considerable importance of set pieces in creating goals. "Since 2003/04, 24% of all UEFA Champions League goals have come from set plays," he reflected. "After three successive years of decline, the number increased to 26% of last season's total ... and 27% of the total goals so far in 2014/15 have come from set plays."

The referees were appraised of the significance of the last 15 minutes of a match. Research in the UEFA Champions League and the top six European leagues showed that in the last six seasons, 23% of goals had been scored after the 75th minute. "The reasons are varied," said Lupescu. "Tiredness, mistakes, tactical changes, the scoreline and expectations to change it ... there is a mental aspect with tiredness, for example, and referees may also take this aspect into consideration for their own performances."

Finally, Lupescu closed a fascinating and invaluable presentation by speaking about the role of the goalkeeper. "Today's goalkeepers have been trained and developed differently," he went on. "The modern keeper acts as an additional outfield player – he must be proficient with the ball at his feet, be able to play under pressure and read the game, and be able to intervene outside the area to disrupt attacks."