Bright future for assistant referees
Sunday, 29 January 2023
Refereeing is developing constantly in football’s ever-evolving world – and the role of the assistant referee will remain crucial in the future amid the many changes that are taking place.
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UEFA’s latest course for European assistant referees, held in Rome, provided the perfect opportunity to emphasise the value of the men and women with the flag as a source of vital support not only to referees, but also to the video assistant referees (VARs) introduced in recent years as an important enhancement of the on-field decision-making process.
In discussions at the course, UEFA’s senior refereeing officials and the top assistant referees present were in 100% agreement that the assistant referee has a full part to play in the future of the game, especially through their involvement in game management and control, providing ‘extra eyes’ for incidents and situations, sharing pressures and improving the overall refereeing performance in a match.
Cooperation and support
UEFA’s chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti responded to the doubts expressed in some quarters about the future worth of assistant referees, given the ongoing development of the VAR system.
“We’ve no doubts about the role of the assistant referees and will continue to promote their development,” Rosetti said. “First of all, they’re still extremely important for all the offside situations during the match, and a crucial source in terms of cooperation and support for the referee.”
“The assistant referee often has a different perspective to a referee on the field,” Rosetti added. “They can sometimes be very important in situations where, for example, the referee is surrounded by players and is focusing on the technical decision to be made. The assistant referee is ‘outside’ these situations – they have a ‘colder’ perspective and can give backing and advice to referees on how to act and react, what to say and not to say.”
‘Colleague and friend’ to referees
The assistant referees themselves gave important feedback to UEFA on how they perceive their role, especially in lending mental support to referees in stress situations – one work group spoke of the need to be ‘a colleague … and a friend’ in working together with a referee.
The officials who run the line also underlined their value in, among others, sharing responsibility, having an additional vision of game-changing situations, reinforcing the image of the refereeing team through their presence and actions, and providing clear and calm communication to the referee and – when on duty – VAR team.
“Assistant referees are major actors on the field,” said Rosetti. “We listen to them and take the good points they make with a view to implementing them in the future. The courses help them to compare ideas and give each other advice. They have great dedication and a lot of passion, and are adapting and adjusting well to new developments.”
When to raise the flag – and when to keep it down
The course not only looked to the future, but also reviewed how the assistant referees’ role has developed recently, especially as a result of the implementation of the VAR system.
One particular aspect where the assistants’ job has changed through the advent of VAR is timing when raising the flag for offside. “We need the assistant referees to show their traditional abilities from the past,” Rosetti reflected. “Accuracy, precision in offside evaluation. But timing is now an essential element of the job – they must know when to raise the flag.”
“If they raise the flag at the wrong moment, problems can arise as far as the final decision is concerned. We’ve worked hard on the ‘flag delay’ concept at the course.” When the VAR system is in place for a match, assistant referees are being advised not to raise the flag if in doubt about a potential offside situation.
Other key differences for assistants officiating with the VAR system include the need for clear and short communication; even greater alertness in anticipating situations and reading the game; and personal mental strength after a VAR intervention – reacting in a positive manner if VAR overturns a decision.
Consistency and preparation
The assistant referees, who also undertook a stringent fitness test in Rome, were given a clear message of encouragement by Roberto Rosetti as they look forward to a challenging spring in UEFA’s club and national team competitions. Decision-making consistency, he said, was a key weapon in an assistant referee’s armoury.
“Consistency is more important than perfection,” Rosetti explained. “It’s impossible to be perfect, but it is possible to be consistent. We believe in you. Work hard on your fitness, as well as your technical, psychological and tactical preparation. That’s the key to success.”
“You’re very lucky to be working in football,” he concluded. “We’re privileged people, because we have the possibility to do something that we love and is our passion...”