Like last year, it is again time to make some profound predictions regarding the referee appointments for the pending UEFA Europa League final between Benfica SL and Chelsea FC to be played in Amsterdam ArenA on 15 May 2013.
At first, one must expose some criteria that should be fulfilled or that limit the pool of probable candidates:
I. The referee to be selected very surely belongs to UEFA Elite Group of Referees.
II. The match officials to be selected do not come from England, Scotland or Portugal.
III. The referee to be selected does not necessarily need to have been involved in a Europa League match in this season so far.
IV. Referees, who took charge of a Europa League semifinal, will be no option for Amsterdam final.
V. Referees, who have already taken charge of a Europa League final in the past, have to be left out.
Applying this criteria, only a few match officials are remaining:
Felix Brych (GER), Cüneyt Çakır (TUR), Viktor Kassai (HUN), Björn Kuipers (NED), Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR), Gianluca Rocchi (ITA), Damir Skomina (SVN), Paolo Tagliavento (ITA), Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP)
Applying the performance principle, i.e. considering past performances, these officials should be remaining:
Felix Brych (GER), Cüneyt Çakır (TUR), Björn Kuipers (NED), Gianluca Rocchi (ITA), Damir Skomina (SVN), Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP)
(Viktor Kassai is left out after a weak CL semifinal performance, Svein Oddvar Moen is left out due to a not good enough performance in a CL quarterfinal and Paolo Tagliavento is left out due to a weak CL Round of 16 performance and a generally bad shape at the moment)
Although Gianluca Rocchi and Alberto Undiano Mallenco did not show totally bad performances and both had decent seasons on the whole, I do not think that it will be enough for a final. Cüneyt Çakır could be ignored for political reasons, as another appointment of the Turkish official for a match of Chelsea FC or in general an English team could cause medial trouble even before the starting whistle, which would harm both the match and the referee - this cannot be neither in UEFA's nor in Çakır's own interest.
Benfica SL and Chelsea FC have already met last season in form of the Champions League quarterfinals. Paolo Tagliavento handled the first leg in Lisbon (0:1), Damir Skomina took control over the second leg in London (2:1). Specially Skomina's performance, which was overall expected level, showed that this match can be very tough to control and to manage. Even though UEFA did not make the worst experience by appointing Skomina for this match then, I doubt they will do it once again. When searching for a referee for such a vitally important final, the pre-dominant focus should be set on the question of which referee is the best referee available and possible for this specific match. What we are looking for should be a referee, who has experience with sonorous and not that easy matches, whose strengths are to keep such matches calm while maintaining a good decision-taking. Two names who to my mind embody that: Felix Brych and Björn Kuipers.
|Björn Kuipers of NED (c) Gelderlander.nl|
For Dutchman Björn Kuipers, this season has been simply fantastic. After two rather weak performances at Euro 2012, which he consequently had to leave after the group stage, he managed to show seven convincing performances in a row in both UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. On 9 May, he will handle the Dutch cup final. He was first rewarded with the match FC Barcelona - Paris S.G. in CL quarterfinals, where he performed well and basically kept everything under control having been under the supervision of Kyros Vassaras. And then, only two weeks later, he was assigned for the next CL clash, this time he made his semifinal bow in CL. Borussia Dortmund beat Real Madrid with 4:1 - Kuipers awarded a correct penalty, correctly rejected another penalty appeal and the entire Dutch team were able to convince with a nearly faultless performance. The most striking circumstance regarding this match: UEFA Vice Chief Officer in terms of refereeing, Scottish Hugh Dallas, observed and assessed him. The question could be: Isn't the presence of two referee committee members in Kuipers' latest matches a clear hint for something even bigger, e.g. for a final? Kuipers could follow in Velasco's footsteps - the Spaniard also convinced in a CL semifinal's first leg (Schalke 04 - Man. United) and then got the EL final in Dublin (Porto - Braga).
What UEFA knows is that they mostly could rely on Kuipers in such important moments - it would already be his third international final after UEFA Under-21 Euro final 2009 and UEFA Super Cup final 2011. Of course, Kuipers also knows the stadium inside out. This could also be a political issue, may a referee for a final come from its hosting country? But...why not?!
Retrospecting the past two or three seasons, the doctor in law from Munich has performed an impressive development. Appointments like Chelsea FC - FC Barcelona in CL semifinals or Real Madrid - Man. United are the unequivocal proof of that. After the 2012/2013 season (if not earlier), he has established as the German no.1 ahead Wolfgang Stark. Nonetheless, he was not spared from controversies in his matches so far: he awarded controversial but probably acceptable penalty kicks in Braga - Man. United as well as Celtic - Spartak Moskva and in the Round of 16 clash in Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, he potentially missed a dogso-incident - however also here, there are doubts, whether it was really an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. The rest was very well solved by his team in this match, which was observed by important referee observer Bertrand Layec of France.
|Felix Brych of Germany (c) ZIMBIO|
Brych did not get a further match though in the further stages. This could have its reason in the constellation of the CL semifinals, where it was impossible to appoint German referees. A political hurdle for Brych could be the fact that German Wolfgang Stark took charge of last season's Europa League final in Bucharest. I actually believe in individualism and hope that UEFA does not deploy such ways of thinking when selecting a referee for the final. Many people also state that this final would disallow Brych to get a CL final in the next two or three seasons. I do not think so, first because the past has shown that referees were allowed to get two finals within two or three seasons (e.g. Fandel or Busacca) and second because I hardly can imagine that a CL final will be possible in the next seasons at all, considering the supremacy of Bayern München at the moment.
Brych has by the way good experiences with both teams - or vice versa: both teams have good experiences with him: He handled Chelsea's CL wins over Napoli and Barcelona in 2011/12 and refereed Benfica SL twice, against Olympique Marseille in EL 2009/10 (1:1) and against FC Twente in CL play-offs 2011/12 (3:1). Furthermore, he already handled a match in the final's stadium, because he oversaw Ajax Amsterdam's 1:1 draw with AC Milan in CL 2010/11.
As always, there is more than one option for the final. Both referees would very much deserve this final in my opinion. If I had to select, I would choose Brych, which would however not been a decision against Kuipers, whom I also trust to be an excellent choice for this specific match between two great clubs.
A general remark: it is unsure how UEFA will procede with regard to the reserve officials. Last year, there was an Elite referee from a different country than the rest of the team who functioned as fourth official. However, the last season was characterized by preparations for Euro 2012 and this time, the fourth official will be very likely an assistant referee and no referee. Probably, UEFA will appoint one further assistant referee as fourth official and one referee who could also work as AAR in case of an injury of one of the officials. If anyone knows something more exact, please let us know.
In a nutshell, my prediction:
15 May 2013, 20:45 CET
Amsterdam ArenA (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Benfica SL - Chelsea FC
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Assistant Referee 1: Mark Borsch (GER)
Assistant Referee 2: Stefan Lupp (GER)
Additional Assistant Referee 1: Marco Fritz (GER)
Additional Assistant Referee 2: Tobias Welz (GER)
Fourth Official: Thorsten Schiffner (GER)
Reserve Official: Deniz Aytekin (GER)