As they set out on what will hopefully be memorable continental careers, Europe's new international referees have received a wealth of invaluable advice from a man who, in refereeing terms, has "been there and done that".
UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina – who took charge of some of the biggest occasions in football during his own outstanding career – was on hand at UEFA's winter referees' course in Rome to give newcomers to the FIFA international list a comprehensive introduction to the high-pressure, high-stakes modern European game.
Collina was joined by the chairman of the UEFA Referees Committee, Ángel María Villar Llona, in opening the 22nd UEFA Introductory Course for International Referees and urging the young referees to show responsibility and dedication to their profession. The match officials heard that meticulous preparation, courage and consistency in taking decisions, knowledge of football tactics and players, and a belief in their own abilities are all crucial parts of a top referee's armoury.
The course is the first to feature men and women referees. "It has special importance in the development of men and women referees," said Villar Llona. "The UEFA Referees Committee is investing much in you – please take the opportunity that you are being given. And be aware of your responsibilities in representing UEFA and your country."
Pierluigi Collina developed the topic of responsibility. "Understand that you are representing your national association, UEFA and yourself," he reflected. "Remember that many people, including young referees, will be looking at you as a role model, which is not only an honour, but also a major responsibility."
"Be prepared" was a key element of Collina's message to the refereeing "rookies". Given the speed of the modern-day game and the intense media focus, referees had to be prepared to handle pressure in taking decisions, often in a split-second. "Consistency is also key," he added. "The ultimate target for a referee is to be accepted – with decisions being accepted even if they are not agreed with, or even if a decision is wrong. It is a great goal achieved when players trust in you."
Collina encouraged the referees to protect the players, for example, from aggressive tackling which could endanger a career, and to not accept mobbing by players. The two issues have been a top priority for UEFA in recent years as part of strenuous efforts to protect the image of the game.
In addition to firm and brave decision-making, Collina stressed that the current-day top referee was an athlete and therefore had to be 100% fit to maintain standards until the end of the match. To underline that point, the Italian showed a video of the last three minutes of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final – a game he refereed – when Manchester United FC scored two late goals to beat FC Bayern München. "Even if you are tired, you have to be ready for something like this to happen so that you can take the correct decision if necessary," he said.
Part of a referee's preparation includes studying the teams' tactics and players' traits ahead of a match. "Doing this, you are one step ahead," Collina emphasised. "You can predict, know and understand what might happen in a situation." Referees, he said, should never be afraid to look for the small details as part of their work – and it was essential that referees, their assistants, additional assistants and fourth officials looked to interact and produce consistency and quality as a team.
Mental strength is a "must" if a referee wants to be successful. "Be self-confident and trust in yourselves," Collina said. "Be open to change ... know your strengths and your weaknesses, and be able to take positives even from negative situations. Learn from your mistakes, because in doing so you will come back stronger.
"You are on the first step of a long staircase," Collina concluded. "Be proud and be happy that you are part of a small group of top European referees. It's a great privilege for you. Be committed, be responsible – and be ready."
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