Europe's men and women referees have been sent into the second half of the season with words of encouragement and a backpack full of wise, sensible advice gleaned at their UEFA winter courses in Lisbon. The match officials have been in Portugal for the 22nd UEFA Advanced Course for Top Referees and the 23rd UEFA Introductory Course for International Referees.
"We are facing the most important part of the season with the knockout phase. Every match is crucial. It's important what you will do, so be ready," UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina told the advanced referees preparing for major assignments in UEFA's club competitions. Ten European referees and their assistants are also gearing up for summer action in the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
The winter course serves as a review of the first part of the season, and a primer for the second half of the campaign which is just about to start. UEFA's Referees Committee members led the sessions, which featured video analysis and important feedback from the referees themselves. Fitness checks and tests, and practical and technical sessions were also on the menu, along with visual check-ups – increasingly important given that match officials fix their vision on incidents, focus on close or moving objects, and react to movement around them.
The referees have been comprehensively instructed on key issues. They have been urged to protect the image of the game and the well-being of players in the face of serious foul play which could endanger another player's safety. The Referees Committee has also, among other things, told match officials to act firmly and decisively against instances of mobbing of a referee by several players at once.
The newcomers to the FIFA list go away from their introductory course with a wealth of know-how offered by the committee members, who themselves are all former referees. One fascinating session centred on how referees should have the ability to successfully manage games and the players taking part. "Management is very important – we should know how to manage the game, how to treat the players, show respect," UEFA refereeing officer Hugh Dallas told the attendees.
"We have to be proactive, not reactive – we have to be psychologists, we have to read the minds of the players, we have to look at the mood of the players. Some players will react differently to different situations. We want to work with the players and coaches – without a referee, we don't have a game. But we need to show that we are not above anyone. We should be in the background whenever possible, letting the game run its course. Referees should only become involved when it's necessary to become involved."
The elite referees themselves welcome the opportunity to meet and pass on invaluable advice and support to FIFA newcomers – and no one stops learning. Portugal's Pedro Proença, who handled the 2012 UEFA Champions League final and the final of UEFA EURO 2012, fully agrees. "Refereeing is a continuous learning process," he told UEFA.com. "Until the end of our refereeing careers, we must remain aware that we don't know everything, that we are always learning.
"It's a time for reflection and self-assessment," Proença said of the winter course. "And we try to prepare in the best possible way for the second half of the season. In that sense, it's a unique moment and a time where you can really benefit."
"We always have something to learn from each other," added Turkey's Cüneyt Çakır, who will join Proença at the World Cup. "Everyone has experience of working in difficult leagues and of presiding over difficult games. Here we share those experiences with each other. I would also like to say this is an important part of being a team. We manage important games, but sometimes, on an international level, we are part of a team and this gives me the sense I am part of a big refereeing family."
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