Twelve referees currently feel immense pride at having been chosen to take charge of games at the UEFA EURO 2012 final tournament in Poland and Ukraine next summer – but now comes the hard work that will culminate in them officiating at some of the biggest matches in their careers.
On Tuesday, UEFA announced the 12 referees who will handle games at the eagerly anticipated final round between 8 June and 1 July 2012. The choice of the team was made by UEFA's Referees Committee – itself made up of experienced former international referees – after months of monitoring and observing candidates for this blue-riband event.
"We first identified the number of referees that we considered necessary for this competition and we thought that 12 referees was the right number," said Pierluigi Collina, the former Italian referee who is now UEFA's chief refereeing officer. "We also decided to guarantee the maximum possible flexibility by having 12 referees from 12 different countries. Then, early this season, we identified a very restricted number of potential candidates. They were followed through the last six months of performances, and now we have finalised the list."
Collina outlined the qualities needed to referee in a EURO final tournament. "The 12 are all referees from the elite group, so they are the top referees in Europe. They have all refereed UEFA Champions League matches during the past two seasons. What they can guarantee are two main elements – quality and experience. And only one referee, Howard Webb, was at UEFA EURO 2008. So there has been significant turnover."
Various courses and training events are lined up for the 12 referees as the clock ticks down to UEFA EURO 2012. "Basically, the referees selected will follow the normal preparation that UEFA has for the elite referees," Collina explained. "We will have a winter course in Turkey at the end of January and beginning of February, before the referees start the UEFA competitions again in mid-February.
"The referees will then attend a workshop in Warsaw at the end of April and beginning of May. From now until June, a fitness coach will monitor their preparation in a specific way. For example, we have some referees who have a winter break and others who don't. This is something to be considered. It means that your preparation has to be different, and the fitness coach will create personalised training programmes for the referees from now until the end of the domestic competitions."
Recovery and preparation will then be crucial in the period between the end of domestic competitions and the start of UEFA EURO 2012. "Domestic competitions normally finish around mid-May, and we will have three weeks between the end of the domestic competitions and EURO 2012," said Collina. "It's important for the referees to recover after a long season, but they also need to be ready for the EURO. The three weeks will see specific programmes for that period. The referees will also be followed regularly by members of the UEFA Referees Committee."
UEFA EURO 2012 will be notable for continuing the experiment with additional assistant referees, who stand on the goal line to watch for penalty area incidents, in particular. This will be unprecedented at a EURO tournament and follows a decision by football's lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB). The additional assistants will form a quintet with the referee and the two 'normal' assistant referees, and all five will come from the same country.
"We will also be working on team preparation with the quintets, so we will create a team of five based on quality, and based on teamwork," said Collina. "We will be working together with them from now until the EURO to create a solid team."
Collina, a veteran of the biggest football matches on the planet, including major tournament finals, also has several words of wisdom for the 12 EURO referees. "
They have to be proud of themselves – it's a big achievement, but they also have a big responsibility because they have to be 100% prepared and ready to comply with this commitment. They now have a few days to be happy – and a longer time to prepare themselves for the competition."
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