July 15, 2014

Rizzoli's Final Performance Finally Finishes this World Cup

The bad message for all football enthusiasts including me is: the World Cup is over and 1424 painful days are ahead of us. The good message for all football refereeing enthusiasts including me is: this, the 20th FIFA World Cup has luckily come to an end.


Having watched all 64 matches, I tend to believe that the 25 match officials, who may proudly retrospecting a great progress which made them become World Cup referees, were taught different Laws of the Game than we have at hand. When I downloaded FIFA's latest virtual, interactive Laws of the Game portal and checked the clips and guidelines yesterday, I was strongly wondering whether it really was the same referee committee that issued these guidelines like the one who conducted this year's World Cup refereeing. We have seen an incredible high number of (too) obvious crucial mistakes with mostly a direct impact on the final result, a number of blatant sorts of unsporting behaviour going unpunished, among others simulation and dissent, and referees whom the very much appreciated Graham Poll - this time rightly - described as "men in FIFA's handcuffs". Even though FIFA officially denied it with indignation following an article of the German newspaper "Bild", The 3rd Team has been provided with information by diverse, reliable sources already early in the tournament that was about the top-down strategy to save yellow cards as long as possible, specially concerning national teams that are likely to go through into the knockout stage.
While the intention of this approach was noble, it had fatal effects: The referees were given more space for unfolding their personality, e.g. by using warnings instead of cards, on the field of play. Some of the 25 referees are used to handle matches that way, including Howard Webb, Björn Kuipers, Nicola Rizzoli, Jonas Eriksson and others. The problem: not all 25 referees were Europeans and most of them represented a completely different refereeing mentality, relying more on the use of cards. The committee disarmed a couple of referees by stealing them the only weapon they had. There was hardly a matchday without referees apparently struggling to find the adequate starting moment for the yellow card or ignoring clear tactical fouls. As indicated above, there was only one (wrong) yellow card for simulation and, as far as I can see, no card for dissent (correct me on the latter if I am wrong). Reason enough for Busacca to stand in front of the media and praise the fairplay shown by the players this time as there was no card for simulation. Roughly retrospecting a couple of matches, I could immediately mention 5-10 situations where clear dives were identified but simply not cautioned by the match officials. 
All in all, I think we saw a mixture of very good and empathic management performances and really good referees (e.g. Sandro Ricci, Néstor Pitana and Mark Geiger convinced me), but also a lot of referees who simply did not possess the soft skills needed to manage matches instead of "merely" refereeing them. Exactly these referees were appointed for matches like Brazil-Colombia and absolutely failed. The sentence of one of our users stayed in my mind: "I cannot blame Stevie Wonder for being blind. But I can blame his manager if he sends him to a dart match."

I cannot share Massimo Busacca's enthusiasm about the performances we have seen and sincerely hope that he does not really believe in what he told the media. The most problematic thing: this tournament and its refereeing approach were watched by millions of young referees around the globe. The message transported through this competition thus might have a grave impact on the referees' philosophy and decisions even at grassroot level.

About Rizzoli. Much was said after his final performance in an exciting (and long) 2014 World Cup final. In a way, his performance reflects the entire tournament: A clear emphasis on player management characterized his work on the pitch. He had a very good relation to the 22 players, efficiently used his body language (verbal and non-verbal) to keep control over the match and showed empathy in his appearance. Nonetheless he lost his line in the extra-time and lacked in acceptance a bit during the last minutes. As in the whole tournament, there was not enough accuracy in his decision-taking (specially in the extra-time, his concentration seemed to become a bit lower like the one of all players) and there was simply no courage to appropiately apply basic and very important elements of the Laws of the Game and take unpopular, but correct decisions. No final on this world justifies that you ignore a reckless / excessive usage of the elbow - even if this is directly related to the necessity to send off the offender.
For sure, nobody wants to influence a final that way which is absolutely human, but Rizzoli chose to be a referee whose task actually should be to protect the players and the Laws of the Game no matter how the match could be affected. The Italian has shown the same comfortable way of refereeing back at Wembley in 2013 and that's why FIFA knew what they would get by appointing him for the final. Good for the spectacle, good for the TV companies and good for FIFA, but poor for refereeing itself. His performance was impressive and weak at the same time and both factors belong to a profound and honest evaluation in my opinion. We probably have to learn to accept this way of refereeing big finals at the highest level. And after all, the trio Rizzoli-Faverani-Stefani and their two Ecuadorian teammates left an overall good impression and figure - nobody wants to change with the job they have done, I don't know which referee would have performed much better and therefore they deserve our complete respect and esteem apart from the necessary and justified technical analysis. That's what makes me love refereeing. Although planning ahead the next moves unifies both chess and refereeing, there is an important facet in which refereeing differs from chess: it is never black-or-white and same goes for the Italians' performance.

My full respect goes to all 25 referee trios for what they achieved. My full criticism goes against Massimo Busacca and his referee committee. Positioning themselves in front of the media and calling performances like Velasco's in the quarterfinals or Haimoudi's in the 3rd Place Match "incredibly good" tops the bill and is, at any rate, an exclusive opinion. However I agree with him that some of former top-class referees showed little respect for the referees in front of the media. Urs Meier's words in the German TV were nothing but unfair against his former colleagues and objectively wrong - but that's a different story.

It is not our intention to blame and harrass the 25 referees and Rizzoli in particular. Though we are immensely worried about the millions of other referees who did not join this competition and definitely could not trust their eyes when watching what their idols did or were told to do on the field of play. And that's why I am convinced that it is good that this competition has come to an end. For Collina, Alarcón and all other referee educators on national or regional levels, the motto should be:

"Let the repair work begin!" (and I hope, we can contribute to that)

18 Comments:

  1. Congratulations! Very appropriate comments and extremely well written, with the right tone and in a positive spirit for the future, despite the obvious disappointments with FIFA, and the improper message they sent everyone; I agree 110%;

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  2. Extremely well written! [applause]

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  3. Perfect article, but we have YCs for dissent (Zokora in CIV-JPN, Osses) + (Ansarifard in BIH-IRN, Velasco Carballo), Guardado (NED-MEX, Proenca) and Yepes (BRA-COL, Velasco Carballo)

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  4. .Massimo busacca, himself was very observant of rules or as you call it LOTG, or the most tyrant enforcer of rules. Remember RVP's red card? he killed the match, he killed the dreams of arsenal fans of defeating barca, he killed it very easily by showing a very soft red card for the very small mistake. But his decision was correct one. Arsenal was defeated that day, playing with 10 players they got no chance against barca. That was not great spectacle. Was it? ........I am not expert on referees but I followed Rizzoli's performance in final very closely, Neuer's challenge on higuain was no red card, neither penalty nor was foul on higuain, exactly what 'great' Graham Poll observed. Yeah, it was a joke that Rizzoli gave foul to neuer, but he was under pressure. Any other day, Card happy Rizzoli could have given red card to howedes, but he saved the match for us neutrals spectators, infact he saved the final by not flying red card in whole match. he controlled the match like no other can. He got a couple of ball calls wrong, 1st of neuer-higuain incident, 2nd of the corner for aguero which was not given. he applied LOTG, where it was necessary. He didn't applied LOTG, where it could have killed the game. yeah, physical assault on player deserves red card but see the aguero-schweinsteiger incident, At 1st viewing it was not looked that bad on tv, watching replays it looked nasty. Rizzoli got no second viewing. It was wrong decision. But Rizzoli got majority of the calls right in such highly intense, high voltage game. He deserves kudos atleast from me, who is no expert of referees but a spectator. His bel-arg game was one of the best refreed game of the tournament. you can't blame him for anything in ned-spa. Howard webb was incredible all of the tournament. At UEFA-FIFA level both rizzoli and webb seems same mould of referee. Kuipers was best once again. Shame he didn't get important matches. Spanish referees are very passionate ppl, they are very animating and card happy and not very good man managers . So, when you get instructions that dont show card(if you are to believe), brazil vs colombia happens. Spanish referees believe in doing things their way but when others want to enforce their ways brazil vs colombia happens. Same applies for asian and latin referees. I want great spectacle but I also want player safety and rizzoli, webb and most UEFA referees did well in protecting players in their limits.

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    1. I'm afraid Webb showed that you can still issue cards and use man management to shephard a game to a safe conclusion. Rizzoli, whilst a great communicator still didn't exert enough control early enough in the match for both sets of players to understand were the line is. He sacrificed control for flow and actually left player's safety at risk, Neuer, Howedes, S'Steiger & Aguero all decided they could risk the challenges they made because Rizzoli would tell them to calm down and smilie at them. Remember one player left the field of player completely concussed and could not remember the final, perhaps if a degree of firmness had been applied early in the game this type of wreckless challenge might not have occurred.

      Don't get me wrong Rizzoli did okay but i was left wondering how much better he might have done

      Nice article and it attempts to conclude a good tournament, like we say in the UK, a 'Curates Egg'; good in parts.

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    2. Webb's performance in 2010 wc final was not any better, he lost control of game, he should have given few red cards as fouls were more vicious in that match, he chose no to. well, he showed 14 yellow cards and 1red card. More players deserved red for their fouls ..Rizzoli maintained order, he controlled the match, he booked the players. red was necessary for aguero and howedes, he chose not to and for that we can't blame him.

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  5. Very written
    Thank you for articulating what I can only think!

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  6. Who do you think was the best referee of tournament?
    Who was the biggest surprise?
    Who was the biggest disappointment?
    My answers are: Cuneyt Cakir & Howard Webb - Matt Geiger - Nishimura

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    1. Cakir and Rizzoli
      Pitana
      Nishimura

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    2. Rizzoli & Kuipers
      Webb &gassama
      Nishimura & Carballo

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    3. Cakir, Rizzoli, Webb
      Ricci, Pitana, Gassama
      Velasco, Roldan, Mazic

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    4. Kuipers, Pitana
      Ricci, Gassama
      Nishimura, Roldan

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    5. Kuipers, Pitana, Cakir

      Geiger (I was not surprised by Gassama and Ricci as both showed their skills at previous tournaments; the US American team convinced me after not so convincing FIFA matches imho, despite of his final in 2011).

      Nishimura, Roldán, Mazic, Proenca, Velasco and Irmatov (the Uzbek never found his shape of 2010, even though he got a high number of matches).

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  7. http://www.tsa-algerie.com/2014/07/15/arbitrage-djamel-haimoudi-annonce-sa-retraite-internationale/

    Djamel Haimoudi is about to retire. Just waiting for the official confirmation...

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  8. Great recap of the referee performance. Without further technology and the continued meddling of soccer politicians in the job of refereeing, I can only see the next FIFA World Cup having the same outcome. Where does #FIFA take refereeing after they humbly reflect on the 2014WC? Here is one reflection by Errol Sweeney that readers may also find a good read: http://kickshot.org/?p=2904 . The 3rd Team, great job all throughout the tournament giving timely updates on assignments; keep up the good work.

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  9. No fourth World Cup for Rodriguez:
    http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2014/07/16/mexican-referee-marco-chiquimarco-rodriguez-retires/

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  10. I’m struck by how much refereeing has changed over the last number of years. Today’s officials look like proper athletes, and their fitness levels are amazing. This is down to a vastly more professional approach to training, diet, and preparation, and this trickles down through the system. I see it at home, where the young men starting out in our National League are all tall, slim, athletic, and they really look the part.

    I’m also struck by how little human nature has changed over the years. Simulation is now standard practice, but let’s not kid ourselves – it was always there, but in the old days it was called “feigning injury” or “ungentlemanly conduct”. I remember some referees with strong personalities who would stop simultation by making some comment that the other players would hear. The comment could not be repeated in public, but the player engaging in simulation would be made to feel very small indeed.

    The other thing that strikes me is that the constant pressure to achieve consistency has robbed referees of the ability to deal with situations using the 18th Law (common sense). In international football, you can’t always converse with a player in his own language, but facial expressions can get the message across. Collina’s glare meant the same thing in any language, and it often achieved results without a card being shown.

    One thing missing today – probably because referees are playing to the observer – is courage to make correct but unpopular decisions. There were far too many incidents of holding in the penalty area by defenders that were unpunished, and the argument that says “it was a foul but you will never get a penalty for that” is a travesty of justice. A foul is a foul is a foul – end of story.

    There were also too many incidents of referees taking easy options, so as not to complicate things for themselves. For example, the goalkeeper who ran 70 metres to stick his face practically into the referee’s face in a show of dissent. Any referee, in any league, anywhere in the world, would have shown this player a yellow card, so why not in the World Cup ?

    But overall, my sympathy is with the officials. Players are prima-donnas, superstars, with big egos, and they regard the referee as an inconvenience to be looked down on and fooled if possible. But the referees are just “ordinary men”, football lovers with a sense of fair play. The great referee performs the same way in a World Cup game as he does when he is doing an under 14’s match for his local school. It is the love of the game that drives the referee. No referee has ever set out to have a bad game, and on average, the referee will make less mistakes than even the best player.

    Messi is supposed to be the world’s greatest player, but if he was graded in the same way as a referee, how many games in the World Cup would there have been where his score would have been over 8.0 ? Yet he is a hero, and the referee who spends 10-15 or 20 years getting to the top of his profession gets knocked for maybe one mistake in a game.

    But that’s what drives us on – the target of perfection which never comes.

    I congratulate the referees from the World Cup – the good, the bad and the really bad. Like all referees who never made it to that level, I feel for you when it goes badly, and I rejoice with you when it goes well

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  11. http://www.reddit.com/r/fundamentals/comments/2er6zo

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