Europe's new international referees have been given a wealth of invaluable advice by Pierluigi Collina at a UEFA course in Turkey.
Collina, who took charge of the biggest fixtures in world and European football during his own distinguished career, is now deploying his vast experience as UEFA's chief refereeing officer. He imparted essential wisdom mixed with well-chosen warnings to 43 newcomers hailing from 28 European national associations at the 21st UEFA Introductory Course for International Referees in the Mediterranean city of Antalya.
"It's a great privilege for you," Collina told the match officials. "You are among the top referees in the world – it's also a great responsibility. You have to be proud and you have to be committed. You will be part of the very top in world football. Top football means top referees.
"You have to take important decisions on the field of play, and very quickly – in half a second, under pressure – and you have to be ready to take on responsibility," he added. "
Be ready to handle crises – you have to be prepared, because if the decision is important, it can have big implications. Your decision will be discussed and scrutinised. You have to be ready to deal with this pressure."
The newcomers to the FIFA list were made aware of the necessity to constantly seek improvement and know their strengths and weaknesses. "You can always learn," said Collina. "Try to improve all the time and do not be afraid to change." The referees were urged to create their own success through diligent preparation. "If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail," the Italian emphasised.
Part of this preparation, the course delegates heard, included learning as much as possible about the two teams ahead of a match – tactics, players' characteristics, how teams played in certain situations. "This will help you – a good referee is able to read the game," Collina said. "It is important to understand how a match can be played by preparing and studying how a team plays."
Collina also called on the referees to protect players against serious foul play, and to protect themselves from player mobbing, reiterating the UEFA message given to referees at the start of this season.
Fitness and focus are key weapons in the elite referee's armoury. Collina gave the example of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United FC and FC Bayern München – which he handled – when the English club came from behind to win the trophy with two last-gasp goals. Collina recalled his need to stay on the refereeing ball even when fatigue was creeping in. "Sometimes everything can go well until the end of a match, and then you make a mistake," he said. "You have to stay lucid, focused and concentrated – to be fit enough to take decisions when you are tired."
Collina concluded a fascinating hour by reminding the participants of their responsibilities in terms of image. "You have to inspire other people," he said. "The best thing that happens is when someone else decides to be a referee because of you. You are a role model for young referees in your country, and people observe you. You are athletes and should look like athletes – take care of yourselves.
The ultimate goal for a referee is to be accepted – when players and coaches trust you, even if you make a wrong decision. It's a matter of personality, preparation and reliability. Learn from your mistakes and be self-critical. There is always room for improvement. When you make a mistake, look forward, recover, and come back stronger."
Ahead of Collina's presentation, UEFA first vice-president Şenes Erzik opened the course by congratulating the young referees. "You deserve to be here," he said. "You have the most difficult job in football. UEFA is determined and committed to offering you the best education possibilities. You are here to share experiences and learn. There is no limit to learning – it is the key asset. I wish you every success in your careers."
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