February 1, 2012

Team spirit - a key to successful UEFA refereeing (UEFA.com)

Leading European referees welcome UEFA's winter course as an ideal opportunity to bond as a unit – in particular those who will be the 17th team at UEFA EURO 2012 this summer. 

The European top referees have emphasised not only how UEFA's winter course prepares them diligently for assignments in the knockout stages of Europe's major competitions – but also how such gatherings help them to knit together as a European team, exchange ideas, and learn.

The Mediterranean resort of Antalya in Turkey is playing host this week to the referees who will see action in the closing phase of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League this spring, as well as the select dozen who will officiate at UEFA EURO 2012 in the summer. The referees examine match situations, test their fitness and swap experiences, all with the aim of improving the standards that have helped them reach the summit of their chosen profession.

"The winter course is one of the highlights of the year," said Englishman Howard Webb, who took charge of the FIFA World Cup final and UEFA Champions League final in 2010, and will be a member of the EURO team in Poland and Ukraine. "It comes at a really crucial stage of the UEFA season, because the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League all begin again in mid-February after the winter break.
"There are some crucial games coming up, so getting together at the end of January gives us a chance to review what has happened in the group stages so far, to share good practice, and we learn from things that have happened. We can chat with colleagues and it's good to see some friends as well."

One of the messages underlined by UEFA to the referees is uniformity in decision-making – a purpose of this, the 20th UEFA Advanced Course for Top Referees, which Scotland's Craig Thomson, another EURO match official, fully supports. "This course is important in terms of consistency," he explained. "That's what the clubs want, it's what the players want, and it's what the spectators want. A consistent level of approach in decision-making – it's good that we can come together as a group of referees and get the expertise that is passed onto us."

The UEFA winter course also serves as an ideal team-bonding exercise for the elite match officials, many of whom know each other from past  tournaments. "We get on very well as a group," Thomson added. "It's good to come back and see each other and share stories. We don't see each other too often, because we're obviously not in the same national association. Here, it's a more relaxed and informal atmosphere than perhaps in a tournament."

The referees are all conscious that they must never stop learning and be meticulously equipped for what many see as the most difficult job in football. "There are elements in the course that can always help us improve for the coming games," Germany's Wolfgang Stark reflected as he looks forward to club competition appointments and UEFA EURO 2012. "For example, through the use of video reviews [of match situations]. And we're all motivated to keep on developing, to be as well prepared as possible."

Viktor Kassai, the Hungarian who handled the 2011 UEFA Champions League final and who is relishing the opportunity to referee at the EURO, feels that the UEFA winter gathering also gives younger arbiters an ideal chance to meet and learn from more experienced colleagues. Part of the winter course programme is set aside for newcomers to the FIFA international list – 43 of whom are in Antalya.
"There is a human part – to get the top referees together with the new referees," he said. "When I was a young referee in 2003, [UEFA's chief refereeing officer] Pierluigi Collina was an active referee – and a lot of other big referees were also involved. For me and my colleagues, it was a proud moment and a big pleasure to be with them – so now I think we also need to be open with the new, young referees and be there to help them."

UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina has urged Europe's young referees to show courage, be prepared and never stop learning as they embark on their international careers.  

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.

Some of the newcomers while training (fr. l: Marco Fritz, Felix Zwayer, ?)

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."

text and photos taken from UEFA.com (adapted)


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