Seeing the UEFA Europa League final 2013/14 lying only nine days ahead, it is definitely time to make some profound predictions with regard to who should be the match officials who will be about to take charge of these two matches. Today I start with the Europa League final.
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 belong to UEFA Elite Group of Referees.
II. The match officials to be selected do not come from Spain or from Portugal due to the teams involved.
III. Referees, who took charge of a Europa League semifinal this season will be no option for Turin final.
IV. Referees, who have already taken charge of a final in the respective competition in the past, are neglected.
Applying these criteria, several match officials are remaining:Martin Atkinson (ENG), Felix Brych (GER), William Collum (SCO), Jonas Eriksson (SWE), Viktor Kassai (HUN), Pavel Královec (CZE), Stéphane Lannoy (FRA), Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR), Gianluca Rocchi (ITA), Paolo Tagliavento (ITA), Craig Thomson (SCO), Howard Webb (ENG)
Applying the performance principle, considering their recent shape, experience and other soft factors, only a few match offficials are remaining:
Felix Brych (GER), Jonas Eriksson (SWE), Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR), Gianluca Rocchi (ITA), Howard Webb (ENG)
Since Juventus Turin lost their semifinal and won't attend the final in their home stadium, an Italian match officiating team is theoretically possible. Gianluca Rocchi performed decently this season, showing good performances in mostly easy but also one very difficult match (Sevilla - Porto). However, his AR2 Gianluca Cariolato would very likely miss him in the case of a nomination because of his presence and serious crucial mistake at Skomina's side in the semifinals. Furthermore there are probably some referees whose shape would justify a final designation more than Gianluca Rocchi without devaluing his quality of refereeing.
Norwegian Svein Oddvar Moen made a really good development this season. Last season, he had many problems in the Round of 16 match between Arsenal FC and Bayern München as well as the quarterfinal between Real Madrid and Galatasaray. In both cases, he indicated his potential and talent but struggled in other significant parts. This season, the monitoring of his progress was apparently intensified by the referee committee. Among others, Marc Batta and Juan Antonio Fernández Marín observed him in interesting matches that were topped by the World Cup play-off between Jordan and Uruguay and his nomination for the World Cup as fourth official. A match in Champions League knockout stage was the logical consequence, but again, he disappointed a bit. In Bayern München - Arsenal FC, he never found a consistent line and missed a clear foul preceding a goal scored by the English side. Therefore his journey in UCL ended after this match supervised by Jaap Uilenberg and continued in Europa League (AZ Alkmaar - Benfica SL with Nikolay Levnikov, so again a committee member). Moen is no option for a final as main referee from my point of view. He must collect more experience over the next couple of years to really arrive at the absolute peak and to deposit the "talent-label" that clings to him. Being a talent is fine, but the final breakthrough should follow over the time. As mentioned above, he will join the World Cup as fourth official. That's why I expect that Moen will be assigned for Turin final as such to gain valuable experiences as fourth official in general but also related to the spirit of an international club competition final.
The other Scandinavian, Jonas Eriksson, was practically active in every single round of this knockout stage so that partly the impression had aroused that UEFA had quite limited resources of top-class referees: Champions League Round of 16, Europa League Round of 16 - observed by vice officer Hugh Dallas and chief officer Pierluigi Collina, Champions League quarterfinals and, last but not least, a Champions League semifinal, also under the eyes of Collina, who was in Estadio Vicente Calderón. He performed well or even very well in almost every match. With every game, however, there were more inconsistencies here and there, even though this is criticism on a very high level. Except Atlético Madrid - Chelsea FC, he always had full control and exhibited outstanding management abilities which would be needed in the probably fight between Benfica SL and Sevilla FC. I slightly missed these abilities in Madrid though, to be honest. This naturally only represents a subjective opinion and may not be generalized. In my opinion, he could have performed and dealt better with the intense moments in this semifinal, specially when it came to mass confrontations - which, of course, also underlines the high difficulty of the task the Swedish team had to cope with that evening. Anyway, I actually don't expect Jonas Eriksson in Turin and would be glad to see him on World Cup turf the next time.
Same goes for Howard Webb. Undoubtfully, his performances have been great in this knockout stage if we exclude small problems in the Italian duel also caused by his additional assistant referee. Specially in Real Madrid - Bayern München, he totally showed his huge experience. And in the previous Champions League quarterfinal between Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona, he got the highest mark we ever gave in our match reports (8.9). So there is little doubt about the level of his performances. Additionally, there are strong rumours that Webb would consider to finish his international career after the World Cup in July 2014. Turin's final would be kind of a farewell party or gift for Howard Webb and his assistants - a Europa League final is almost the only thing still missing in his CV. The doubt I have is whether referees should be appointed for big finals only because they deliberately and voluntarily decided to retire. Generally: a clear no. But as we speak about Webb and not the first one that comes along, generalizations do not work. Nonetheless I am convinced that there are many other referees who should get into the spotlight and who should be rewarded for their constantly good work over years. As you have maybe guessed, that's the cue for Felix Brych.
The financial lawyer from Munich, Germany, delivered overall good performances in a constant way over the past four or five years. The World Cup play-off between Ireland and France, where he really excelled, can be considered as the starting point of his breakthrough. He has become a very reliable referee for the truly difficult matches over time and is estimated as such by the responsible officials. When FIFA and UEFA neglect to appoint an established, fully experienced and also very good referee like Wolfgang Stark for the World Cup, his compatriot Brych must have some qualities. Matches like Chelsea FC - FC Barcelona in the 2012 semifinals or the Balcan derby between Serbia and Croatia in the World Cup play-offs are good examples of his ability to keep high-profile matches under very good control while always paying attention to the Laws of the Game. Nonetheless, his performances have been, in my opinion, only "good, and nothing more" this season. The last piece of cake that would have made these performances very good was mostly missing. What is weird in Brych's case is that he consistently makes the same mistakes or shows the same weaknesses again and again, e.g. his player management, use of the whistle and gestures, positioning, additional time management... His coaching should be optimized at any rate - there is still a lot of potential upwards. Despite that, delivering constantly good performances in matches like AC Milan - FC Barcelona, Chelsea FC - Galatasaray or FC Barcelona - Atlético Madrid should be enough to strongly consider Brych for the Europa League final, to give him some really good arguments for many matches at the World Cup and to reward him for what he accomplished over the last years, keeping in mind that often times Bayern München impeded such a "reward". It would be his third final within one year by the way - however, he had "only" been Kuipers' fourth official in both finals. Even though the German champions have lost their Champions League semifinals, I do not expect Felix Brych in Lisbon, although I am quite sure that the committee members are intensely thinking about this unique opportunity at the moment (taking into account that Bayern München will probably not always miss the final) - but I personally think that Turin should be the venue where his trip has to go to.
Juventus Stadium, Turin, Italy
Sevilla FC - Benfica SL
Referee: Felix Brych (GER)
Assistant Referee 1: Mark Borsch (GER)
Assistant Referee 2: Stefan Lupp (GER)
Additional Assistant Referee 1: Felix Zwayer (GER)
Additional Assistant Referee 2: Marco Fritz or Tobias Welz (GER)
Fourth Official: Svein Oddvar Moen (NOR)
Reserve Assistant Referee: Mike Pickel (GER)
Expect the Champions League final predictions next week, please!