As usual, UEFA.com published an article about the seminar attended by Elite, Elite Development and nine First Group referees at the start of this week, dealing with background details and statements issued by UEFA's person in charge of refereeing, Pierluigi Collina, who put forward messages to his officials and reflected on several general facets of the progress in European refereeing.
First of all, hold on tight! The Additional Assistant Referee programme was not eulogized this time - it was not even mentioned in this press release. After matches like Bayern München - FC Barcelona, Collina very likely has good reasons to do so.
But paying attention to every single statement given by him, one thing is irritating. Did he send his messages to an audience of referees - you know these men making football possible, being game-managers and partly real psychologists on the pitch - or to an audience of professional athletes?
"It is important to be an athlete – and a referee or assistant referee is definitely an athlete. If you are not an athlete, you cannot deal with a match, given the speed and intensity of matches that are played today."
That's only half the story. It's correct that football has developed enormously in terms of speed, intensity and specially related to the technical abilities of the players. But that's not all. The players are still humans, and mostly even younger humans, as the average age in UEFA's major competitions has rapidly decreased over the past years. Referees are more and more challenged as psychologists of the players - and often of themselves, too. There have never been that many people attending a stadium to celebrate their team and this beautiful game, there have never been that many cameras allowing a judgment on every potentially decisive decision taken by match officials. Referees feel this growing pressure, but do not need compassion either. They must be shown ways to cope with this pressure efficiently and need the absolute support by the committee. Thus it is confusing that Collina obviously considers fitness, stamina and the outward appearance as the keys to more progress in refereeing. It would have been soothing to read a statement like "It is important to be a manager - and a referee or assistant referee is definitely a manager. If you cannot manage matches on a psychological manner, you cannot deal with a match, given the new challenges to be faced in modern football."
"You also have to look like an athlete", Collina said. A simple question: why?? In order to achieve perfectionism? Is a referee with a fat ratio of 13 % a better referee than a referee with 16 % and a small hunch? And, just by the way, what does he mean with "athlete"?
"You are on duty, not visiting a city as a tourist". To make that clear: nobody has doubts on the need to attend a match with total alertness. Creating a tunnel view with maximum concentration during the whole 48h trip - is that a goal passionate referees are supposed to strive for? Everybody knows you cannot show your best performance if you do not feel positive pressure in a relaxed, but nonetheless focussed climate, doing your work within positive emotions. That belongs to the ABC of psychology. Unfortunately I do not lose the impression that UEFA refereeing is dominated by someone who targets at producing streamlined and perfect referees. But that won't work.
Additionally, the past Champions League campaign, which was partly characterized by weak performances, actually demands more than a sole concentration or at least clear emphasis on physical aspects. Teams, players and fans won't have the rewards for totally fit referees who however lack match feeling and common sense. They deserve more than cherry picking with regard to the AARs programme and "athletes". In my humble opinion, Collina is on the wrong track.