July 24, 2015

Comment on UEFA's Referee Category Revision: Politically Valuable and Courageous, But Motivationally Dangerous

Eight. It has been an immense number of referees promoted to UEFA's highest referee category, the so-called Elite-Group, which probably surprised most of us and maybe even some of the officials concerned themselves. Considering several seasons with a moderate amount of new Elite referees (6 in the last 3 years) compared to the number of retirements or demotions (7), Collina's and his colleagues' decision is kind of a caesura in UEFA refereeing. A caesura which I consider as fatal for some of the referees promoted and as a poor signal to other referees in lower categories.

Why waiting so long? UEFA puts eight men onto the highest step of the ladder at once!

Practical Aspects

UEFA has promoted the following officials:

Ivan Bebek (Croatia, 1977), Ovidiu Alin Hategan (Romania, 1980), Sergei Karasev (Russia, 1979), Szymon Marciniak (Poland, 1981), Bas Nijhuis (Netherlands, 1977), Daniele Orsato (Italy, 1975), Tasos Sidiropoulos (Greece, 1979), Clément Turpin (France, 1982).

Based on performances, Szymon Marciniak is - in my view - the only referee who deserves the promotion he got. At least at the moment, i.e. in July 2015.
His development was quite pleasing over the last 1 or 2 seasons. Specially 2014/15 has been a great year for him with convincing performances in Champions League, Europa League and at last month's Under-21 EURO where he refereed the final in a quite impressive way. The observers appointed to his matches were clearly indicating what came last Monday.
But: This does not count for 7 ouf of 8 referees. And that's the definitely irritating part of UEFA's promotion orgy (sorry, there is no word that suits better). Ivan Bebek, Ovidiu Hategan, Sergei Karasev and Tasos Sidiropoulos are all very good referees with Bebek and Karasev being the more experienced officials among them. 
Both are brilliant on their best days; unfortunately, they did not have their best days that often last season. Karasev recommended himself at Under-21 EURO, so that his promotion did not completely come ouf of the blue. Measured against old standards (i.e. the standards before 20 July), he should have been kept and further tested in First Group though. Same goes for Bebek, who made a high number of crucial mistakes in the early part of last season. Based on the complete last two years, one can however say that both deserved it one day - it is simply surprising that the promotion came NOW (not earlier, not later).
Tasos Sidiropoulos is a very complete referee, who has literally all what is needed to successfully referee matches at the highest level. Nonetheless, in my opinion UEFA has been too quick with him (keeping in mind that 2 years ago, he was still in Second Group). More time to collect valuable experience and to turn points to improve into strengths would not have harmed this referee, whom I predict a bright future.
Ovidiu Hategan's promotion surprised me more. Politically, he has Kyros Vassaras behind him who has returned into the UEFA referee committee and who is in charge of refereeing in Romania's football association. The matches Hategan got were mostly not that important - his performances were solid, but not excellent for my taste. His most important room for consideration is working on his personality on the field of play. Therefore, for me a very promising and talented referee with however too important areas where development is definitely needed - so also here: this promotion came too early from my point of vision. 

Now we come to the more political part: Bas Nijhuis, Daniele Orsato and Clément Turpin. Dutch Bas Nijhuis was actually already demoted in winter 2013/14 but surely had luck that UEFA decided to re-categorize most former Elite Development officials as a consequence of its abolishment. He made too many important mistakes and did not show the mental constitution on the field of play needed to handle European matches at the highest level - at least in international games. His only Champions League match last season: Porto vs BATE. After that, he got some smaller matches in Europa League topped by a quarterfinal which was widely understood as a compensation for the Dutch federation KNVB following Björn Kuipers' implicit end-of-season at Stamford Bridge. He performed well, as many other First Group officials did (Bezborodov, De Sousa, Kulbakov, Schörgenhofer...). Nijhuis' prospect for the future is very limited, therefore I can only comment on his promotion: not understandable, if Jaap Uilenberg was not known as an influential person at Collina's side.

Daniele Orsato has had some really good seasons in Italy's Serie A and belonged to the best-performing referees in his domestic league. Internationally, he rarely and maybe never showed his potential. He rarely got important matches or even observers. And if he got such matches, like the Spanish derby in Europa League last season, he did not really convince. So his promotion is not understandable either. It would be understandable if the committee had decided to switch positions within the leading Italian referees (Tagliavento's performances have been too bad for Elite in the past, so a replacement would have been possible). But now, UEFA's Elite Group consists of 4 Italians following the Spanish quartet that emerged last winter - decided by a committee headed by an Italian as the chief officer and a Spaniard as the Chairman. This all has a small taste, to say the least. To stress that: It would be no problem if these referees were belonging to the best of Europe - Italy and Spain are both huge football nations, so that it is also natural that their referees are more experienced and have a slightly higher quality and selection-process behind them. The problem is that this only counts for a minority of the eight Italian or Spanish referees in Elite.

Finally: Accepted, France will host a European Championship with Platini being in the stadiums. France has to be represented by a referee as a consequence. With Lannoy having retired, there seems to be only a 33-year-old talent with 3 Champions League matches in his CV. This also shows that France's referee managers seem to have slept in the last 10 years. Clément Turpin has impressively proven two things last season: a): That he is a huge talent who has the chance to become one of the best European referees. And b): That he needs time! His performance in Feyenoord-AS Roma was unacceptable and displayed that he is not yet matured enough to handle such matches. Appointing him for such a match was the bigger mistake though. But why to learn from that if one can promote this referee to Elite? Well ok, as said, France has to have a referee at their EURO and if it goes the same way like in 2012, the EURO 2016 referees will be nominated a few days prior to the next category update. So Turpin had to be made Elite already now, even if he gets burned. Fatal. We can only wish Turpin the best to cope with this pressure on his shoulders and this fast-track-insanity.

Motivational Aspects

From a motivational and therefore psychological perspective, last Monday's promotion move has been quite unclever - and here I naturally also mean the high level of irritation and maybe even frustration which definitely exist among other referees who were not promoted despite performing better than some of those promoted. 

Adam's Equity Theory (1965) well showed that individuals acting in social situations tend to compare the relationship of their outcome measured against their input with the input-outcome-relationship of others. By means of this social comparison, they assess whether they experience a situation or relation as unfair or fair. Imbalanced relationships in favour of the other person(s) leads to disappointment, frustration and, under circumstances, to retaliation behaviour (why does XY get more than I do, even though he invested less then I did?), while imbalanced relationships in favour of themselves might lead to feelings of guilt (why do I get more than the others although we invested the same?). Balanced relations are experienced as smooth and motivating.

Equity Theory, modified for refereeing: Balanced relationships are felt as fair, imbalanced ones as unfair and demotivating. Examples for Inputs: Effort, Dedication, Quality of Performance; Examples for Outcomes: Appointments, Marks, Promotions

In short: Political promotions or promotions as an end in themselves might be good for those who are promoted, but it demotivates the majority of those who probably could not trust their eyes when reading some of the officials promoted.

Many theories tell us that there are numerous internal factors that motivate us to perform at the best level possible. Known as intrinsic motivation, there are indeed motivators "inside of us", e.g. motives, interests or the feeling of possessing the skills needed to meet the demands of a task. The pendant is called extrinsic motivation and comprises external motivators such as monetary incentives, social incentives or rewards in general. If a pupil is motivated to write a good exam, the underlying reason can either be strong ambition motives (internal motivator) or getting a reward from his parents in case of a good mark (external reward). Similarly, one can distinguish between so-called "push-and-pull-factors". There are factors that push us to giving our best and being motivated (motives) and that pull, i.e. encourage, us (rewards). 

In business and management, the most efficient and attractive rewards are monetary incentives. Although most people, if asked, say "money is not the most important thing" for them, objective and empirical data show the opposite: There is strong evidence for money being the most efficient incentive in industry and management areas (among others see Stajkovic & Luthans, 1997). This is well realized in UEFA's Referee Salaries: The higher your category, the higher the salary. And if you handle a quarterfinal, semifinal or final in UCL or UEL, you even get a bonus of 1000 € as Elite referee. Another strongly related incentive is a reasonable chance for future promotions in case of good performances. This is mostly a part of career planning and managing in human resource management. If managers succeed in wisely monitoring employees (or referees) in terms of their career, the prospect of a promotion can be a factor that pulls referees to invest many and even more efforts and time into refereeing (fitness level, nutrition and all what is connected to professional refereeing off and on the field). Studies have clearly shown that long-term promotion programs outperform short-term programs (Condly, Clark & Stolovitch, 2008): It should be a process that lasts for some years. If you want Clément Turpin to invest as much as possible in becoming better step by step, you can support him by giving him extrinsic motivators such as a promotion to Elite which comes in-time instead of as soon as politically needed. Having a promotion in sight (one day) could have motivated someone like Ovidiu Hategan to continuously improve more than a too early promotion does. UEFA has proven to fail in taking a long-term view already back in 2011 when they appointed a 35-year-old Hungarian to take charge of the Champions League final in Wembley. Viktor Kassai has clearly suffered more from this early final than he benefitted from it in hindsight. The always underlying question is: "CL Final with 35: What do I still want to achieve?". Same goes for such fast-track-promotions. If you want a referee to perform well and stay motivated in his next 10-15 years of being FIFA licensed, there should be sufficient achievable but difficult goals to reach in future - reaching Elite one day could have been and stayed such a huge goal for most of the referees promoted.

So: Officials who get promoted too early, although their personality or performances do not yet meet the requirements, can lose a strong extrinsic motivator which triggers good performances (including a public social reward (a promotion) as well as a monetary incentive (higher category = higher pay). You have to hope that they have the right people around them and strong internal motivators and succifient other extrinsic goals which pulls them enough to continue to become better every day and deliver good performances. Though, there is another problem: You must be careful that those referees do not lose the ground under their feet. Stay modestly and deeply rooted to the ground despite all understandable joy! Stay focussed and let politics be politics.

Furthermore, it is clear that from now on UEFA's Elite Category has lost a part of its golden standard. In a way, these eight promotions have devalued the highest referee category which formally equaled and meant kind of a knightly accolade for every referee. If eight referees who are partly not yet ready for it are able to enter this, the highest category, what is such an Elite Group still worth?

The only good message to all referees: Promotions can happen out of the blue, overnight and without earlier notice. You can be promoted even if you feel you are not yet ready for it. This can of course be a new motivator which did not exist before.

A really positive consequence of last Monday's decision is that some of the new Elite referees like Bebek, Hategan or Sidiropoulos and especially Karasev and Marciniak are also a signal to the older, established Elite Referees: "We are there." This might be an indirect factor motivating officials like Moen, Kassai or Skomina to work even harder, specially as their place in France 2016 is not as safe as before last Monday anymore.

Last but not least, to finish this article in a positive light: What UEFA's Committee members and officers have proven is at least the courage to put trust into a young and new generation of referees. This should not remain unmentioned.

So, in a sum:

1) For me some of these promotions were strategically and politically motivated which I consider as a shame and nothing else.

2) These fast-track promotions came partly too early and were not in-line with the level of performances and progress of development in every case. Referees are not given the time they need to prosper and collect experience.

3) They can have negative motivational impacts on both, the referees promoted and the majority of other officials in lower categories.

4) The Elite Category lost some value overnight.

5) The good message: These promotions create constructive pressure on the older, more established Elite officials with regard to EURO 2016. And: Apart from a poor signal to other referees, they might believe more in their own promotion one day.

6) In the end, these promotions were nonetheless courageous: Much trust is put into a young and promising "Next Generation" of UEFA referees.

Generally, our team naturally congratulates all eight referees promoted and wishes all other referees and assistant referees a good start into the new season!


  1. Anonymous24/7/15 18:32

    Collina,Dallas and Batta are one disaster.

    1. Anonymous29/7/15 17:53

      Thats right!

  2. Anonymous24/7/15 18:46

    Meeting my view exactly. Good article.

  3. Anonymous24/7/15 19:04

    Even in 2009 there were 9 promotions, and even 1996-2005 five or six per year. They were created equally large referees.
    Some times you need a change and 21 Elite referees (negative record) were too few (especially if Euro 2016 there will be 16 places).
    In any case, the one who is now promoted could be demoted in the future: no problem


    1. 2009 was a different time and there was still Yvan Cornu and a different category system.
      I would say the main problem of the former Elite group until 20 July was that 1/3 of the Elite referees are simply not good enough for matches you normally expect to be handled from Elite officials, which results in limited options for important matches. My point was not the number though.

  4. Anonymous24/7/15 22:39

    Do you think, that the AR´s of all that promoted refs have the level for elite? IMO for the real tough matches each member of the ref team must have the highest quality. I am not sure whether it is the case in each of the promoted ref Teams.
    In addition, I agree that the high number of promotions won´t change the general problem in UEFA refereeing: there is a small "real elite". In the ende of a competition, there will be a small number of ref teams handling the all decisive matches because of a lack of real alternatives.


  5. Anonymous24/7/15 23:04

    Dear Phil,

    Thank you for bringing up this subject. I really agree with you, that today's Elite referees in UEFA, should not only deliver the best main referees, but the best refereeing team, which means top class assistant referees as well as additional assistant referees. Look at refereeing teams in the past, which (almost) saw their careers ruined due to their team mates (Thomson, Kassai and Skomina, for example).

    I am really wondering how UEFA deal with assistant referees. Is the Elite referee the one who chooses his regular assistants (AR's, FO and AAR's), does UEFA choose them or the national FA's?

    And about the assistant referees: do all the international assistant referees (no matter the referees they are coupled to) need to pass the fitness test prior the play off stage of CL/EL (August) and in December/January, or only the assistant referees who are coupled to Elite referees?

  6. Anonymous24/7/15 23:18

    UEFA organizes sometimes courses for assistant referees at top level, but never talking about or reporting categories for them. Very nice remark: indeed, many Elite referees had their career ruined by some astonishing mistakes. This of course cant' be totally avoided, but UEFA referees committee could work more on assistant referees. They do that, I guess, more with additional assistant referees than assistant referees.

    1. Anonymous28/7/15 21:23

      And do you know how the appointments of the assistant referees works?
      Does UEFA appoints the assistants to a referee? The national FA's? The referee himself?

    2. Anonymous29/7/15 11:37

      All three subjects are involved. In direction to final stages of UEFA competitions or important tournaments, UEFA RC usually appoints the whole team.


  7. OT: Bas Nijhuis appointed for the Dutch supercup, with his regular assistants.
    FC Groningen-PSV Eindhoven
    Referee: Bas Nijhuis
    Assistants: Rob van de Ven, Carl Schaap
    4th official: Angelo Boonman
    AAR's: Kevin Blom, Pol van Boekel

  8. Anonymous29/7/15 21:04

    Any news about the pre-selected referees for Euro 2016?


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