The spotlight at the current UEFA Youth League final phase in Nyon is not just on the talented young players of tomorrow – the semi-finals and final at the Colovray Stadium give an ideal opportunity for the young refereeing teams involved to show their qualities as they reach the latest stage along their career path.
On Friday, a Romanian trio took charge of the first semi-final between Real Madrid CF and SL Benfica – referee Radu Petrescu was joined by compatriots Radu Ghinguleac and Mihai Artene – while the second semi-final featuring FC Schalke 04 and FC Barcelona was officiated by a team from Poland: referee Paweł Raczkowski along with assistants Marcin Borkowski and Paweł Sokolnicki.
Referees from the Czech Republic have been chosen to handle the final in Nyon on Monday (14.30CET kick-off): Miroslav Zelinka and two assistants Ondřej Pelikán and Krystof Mencl. Switzerland provides the fourth officials for the three matches – Alain Bieri and Adrien Jaccottet for the semi-finals, and Stephan Klossner for the final.
The referee teams arrive in Nyon the day before their game and depart western Switzerland the day after. They are being accompanied by experienced former French international referee Marc Batta, who now serves as UEFA refereeing officer. Batta is working as a referee observer at the final phase, while also leading the important referee debrief session following the matches.
Referees for UEFA Youth League games are second and third-category officials, already experienced in domestic top-flight action, and are generally in their late 20s or early 30s. "This competition has not been an experimental referee laboratory," Batta told UEFA.com. "It has been a competition which has aimed to help improve young referees – first of all, they will have had extra matches in the season, because the UEFA Youth League is in its first season, and referees make progress with each match."
Referees in the two categories are usually appointed for the early stages of the UEFA Europa League and UEFA European Under-17 and U19 Championships.
"There have also been more assessments of the referees' performances as a result of the additional matches, because an observer has attended each match – and the referees have also been able to get a taste of the highest level in refereeing these young players – some of whom will be featuring in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in the future," Batta noted. "In competitions such as the UEFA Youth League, the referees are taking charge of players who have a certain footballing level, and this also enables the referees to move forward and develop themselves."
The UEFA Youth League is proving to be a fascinating window through which to view tomorrow's top match officials, and the competition is also giving ample proof that the UEFA Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) in Nyon is playing its role to perfection. Up-and-coming young European referees are given comprehensive training at CORE courses to prepare them for the future.
"From the [UEFA Youth League] round of 16 onwards, 50% of the referees have come from the CORE courses – the first fruits of the UEFA refereeing school are now being produced," Batta explained. "The work undertaken by UEFA is now having its first impact – it's a great result for CORE, the coaches and the course leader David Elleray."
After the matches in Nyon, Batta is getting together with the refereeing teams for constructive discussions about their performances. "It's an important aspect," he reflected on this 'coaching' role. "You have to tell the referees what they should do to help them improve, and also highlight the positive points and how they should put these into practice. You don't help the referees to make progress if you insist on negative points."
Batta highlights the need for the young officials to play an educational role at the UEFA Youth League final phase. "The philosophy is to let the young players play – while remembering that they are young players, and sometimes their passion gets the better of them. It is then that the referees must be in a position to manage the youngsters rather than just referee them.
"The referee has to help the players channel their energy positively. And, given that the players and referees could be meeting again in major UEFA competitions in a few years' time, this competition gives them the opportunity to get to know each other on the field, which will hopefully enable them to understand each other later on."
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