As recently presumed, UEFA's Referee Committee headed by Pierluigi Collina have decided to form mixed teams of referees to be appointed even in the highest competitions such as UEFA Champions League. Politics in the pure form that rarely happened over the past seasons.
All started after UEFA EURO 2012. At last year's tournament in Poland and the Ukraine, Pavel Královec from Czech Republic functioned as fourth official in a couple of matches. Slovakian Roman Slyško, who is probably remembered as one of two excellent assistant referees at Luboš Michel's side in former times and who sourly upset José Mourinho having awarded a ghost-goal in a Champions League semifinal between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC in 2005, attended the tournament as reserve assistant referee and thus accompanied the referee teams and Královec as the fourth official in several matches. In a newspaper article, UEFA Referee Committee member Dagmar Damková (Czech Rep.) confirmed that, after the tournament, Pierluigi Collina had the idea to integrate Slyško into Královec' team in "some matches". However, this also had an effect on the prospective list of referees for 2014 FIFA World Cup. Královec and Slyško were said to suit together in terms of their characters and hence, both agreed to Collina's plan. The other Czech Republican assistant referee, Antonin Kordula, who performed well in every match he had with Královec, was of course not asked how he would find it being removed from the pre-list. Certainly, one may not withhold that Slyško is indeed one of the best European assistant referees and had some very good calls in last season's Champions League campaign.
Today, Sandro Pozzi's name caught our eyes when going through the referee appointment for Bayern München - CSKA Moskva as part of next week's Champions League group stage start. As gathered last week, he is intregated into an Italian officiating crew, since he is fluent in the Italian language due to his origin. Like Massimo Busacca, Sandro Pozzi is living in the Southern part of Switzerland close to the Italian border (this fact will be revelant later on, too). Pozzi was good at UEFA Under-21 EURO 2013 in Israel and also showed his skills at Stephan Studer's side during FIFA Under-17 World Cup 2011. To make that clear: Pozzi practically deserves to be seen and appointed by UEFA for important matches taking into account his quality. Nobody questions that and nobody begrudges him his nomination. But...there is a "but".
There is a clear principle in football refereeing which should be aspired and considered as somehow ideal: referees or assistant referees may not be assessed or appointed on the basis of politics. Performance principle has to count. Surely, this might sound naive. Even at the grassroots level you only move up if you have someone behind you. But it actually lies in UEFA's and specially Collina's interest to avoid even the appearance that some referees acting at the highest level are only there for political purpose. Therefore I must congratulate Mr Collina that he did not even try to put his political appointment procedure under a veil. In fact, it has already come to that. And that's good. It makes things easier for me to analyze and makes sure that criticizing this referee management with regards to politics won't be considered as mere conspirary theories but as mere facts.
Now we can ask several questions. Why is the Suisse referee management, which was also criticized by Urs Meier in an interview to DutchReferee.com and The Third Team, rewarded for having failed to produce top-class referees after Busacca and Meier? If they do not produce good referees, their assistant referees have bad luck, it is as simple as that. Why is the Suisse football association so important that there has to be a Suisse assistant referee in Champions League? The UEFA coefficients or the domestic structures cannot be the reason, otherwise countries like Greece or Belgium should have drawn a profit from that, too. The same speech might count for Austrian Roland Brandner, who attended the UEFA courses two weeks ago as well and is therefore expected to accompany a foreign referee into UCL. Austria, with all due respect, is no country that is known for top-class (referees) in modern football. As indicated, the origin of those match officials might give a hint: Sandro Pozzi is from the very Soutern part of Switzerland (Lugano), as said. He is living quite close to the Italian border. Same counts for FIFA referee head Massimo Busacca and, what might be even more interesting, a quite powerful man in UEFA refereeing, being an important referee observer and having taken some relevant roles in sub-committees during the past years: Francesco Bianchi (living in Morbio Inferiore). So was Pozzi "recommended" by Bianchi?
Same could count for Roland Brandner, who is living in Linz (county Upper Austria). And who is from Upper Austria, too? Horst Brummeier, a meaningful UEFA referee observer who is mostly attending highly important matches and referees. Only two coincidences? I hope so.
Another explanation for today's appointment (Rocchi with Pozzi) might sound more logical. Collina is probably facing resistance in the committee and I furthermore cannot imagine that all the referees and assistant referees concerned accept these plans and movements without saying a word. It is no secret that "PLC" tends to do what he likes in the committee. So it's just phenomenal to choke off every form of criticism by "erasing" an own (= an Italian) assistant referee who makes place for a foreign assistant referee. Very clever.
By the way, Elenito Di Liberatore was surely full of joy when he noticed that Rocchi and company would take the flight to Munich without him. Same will count for Kordula, Rose and other men who are perhaps still fearing to be ruled out so that Brandner gets his place in CL.
In Rocchi's case, a pre-selected trio is destroyed and cannot collect international experiences together. Rocchi has potential, but of course quite low chances for next year's World Cup, considering Rizzoli has too strong arguments at the moment (not to forget his relation to Collina). Actually one should believe UEFA appoints these pre-selected trios as often as possible together on the international stage where they can recommend themselves. One has to wait whether this change will happen once, twice...or will affect the entire season.
And finally, there were and are good reasons why FIFA and UEFA moved away from mixed teams. The recent Under-21 EURO was a paramount example for what happens if you have six men on the field of play who are supposed to communicate on a foreign language in extreme moments. Please Mr Collina, don't return to the start of this millennium, where even at World Cups quite absurd appointments were made, e.g. consisting of a Jamaican referee and two assistant referees from Belarus and the Maldives...
A good team is created over months, mostly years. If Pozzi and Rocchi go into five or six matches per season, this deal-making has no sense at all expect satisfying politics.
In Slyško's and Královec' case, that's different, because they are both acting together in the Czech Republican league as well. Thus Collina should be consistent and invite Pozzi into Serie A - of course he won't do that. And for this reason all that seems to stay a practical hazard and political shenanigans.