Role Models, Part 1:

I often get asked who my referee role model is. My answer: I have several referees.

What do I, as referee, define as a match official role model? The absence of mistakes? Certainly not. This is humanly just not possible. Consistency in performance? Indeed. Must the referee have a certain rapport with players? In part. Does the referee need a pedigree list of important matches officiated during his career to qualify? Not necessarily, but the highest officiating levels will quickly indicate if a referee has any aptitude and skill to perform well.

Dr. Alfredo Pöge at the The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS, ) keep interesting record of figures, facts and statistics pertaining to players, referees, coaches and all aspects related to football. The good doctor and his number-crunching colleagues have opinions based on weights derived from various officiating medians, averages, amount of yellow and red cards issued over an entire international career, important tourneys officiated and various technicalities classified as statistical facts. Scanning the list, I see that some of my referee role models are indeed listed on their list. Their world ranking of referees covers the last 22 years. The list is updated annually in January.

Dr. Pöge states the question of whom are the world’s all-time best referees can only be answered from 1986 onwards, since it is only with the introduction of the annual “The World’s Best Referee” (by IFFHS) together with the introduction of world rankings for referees in 1987 that objective conditions were created to analyze and base the IFFHS decisions on who actually are the annual top world referees.  The IFFHS plans a Gala in 2012 to celebrate “25 Years of Top World Referees.” They will then invite all honoured annual winners as well as the overall “Top Ten” referees in the overall placing.

Referees are analyzed according to their Top 10 placing every year, with each referee awarded a number of points appropriate to his place in the Top 10 rankings. The first receives 10 points, down to the 10th who gets 1 point.  Tallying the total points thus received will indicate the All-Time World Referee Ranking since 1987.

The referees for the period 1872 to 1986 will considered by the IFFHS using a different methodology. Referees with the most appearances in full “A” internationals, Olympic matches, national cup finals, national championships and continental club competitions will be the basis of their analysis. The various rankings of the referees will be determined chronologically and published on the IFFHS web site.

The Webster dictionary defines a role model as someone worthy of imitation, i.e. to base your actions on those people that you aspire to. In a referee sense, I add the following attributes that, for me, is paramount in making a referee role model:

(1)   A strong personality and a belief in yourself – there is no place for meek and mild characters;

(2)  A good communicator, which includes a positive body language;

(3)  Staying calm and relaxed when under pressure;

(4)  The ability to concentrate in a noisy and hostile environment; i.e. to switch off from outside interferences;

(5)  Courage to make calls that might not be popular or accepted by the general public;

(6)  Honesty with people and yourself and a readiness to admit if you make mistakes;

(7)  Having integrity, beyond reproach;

(8) A positive attitude;

(9)  To be able to enjoy officiating despite the immense pressure.

The following match officials, for me, qualify and have dollops of the above attributes, making them my role models:

Mario van der Ende – “We need referees who think like professionals”

Mario van der Ende (
Mario van der Ende – Netherlands (active career: 1977 – 2002)

The Dutchman with the white streak in his hair took charge of five matches in World Cup Finals; three in 1994 and two in 1998. In 1999 Van der Ende was diagnosed with cancer and stopped officiating. A year later he was back on the field of play. He retired in 2002 and is now involved in Australian referee structures.

In a Refsworld interview Mario opinions as follows: “The game needs good referees. When you want to develop the game you must also develop your referees. It’s a machine. The football world is one big machine and refereeing is an important part. The machine can’t work missing a part.”

I held course for upcoming young referees in Australia and I drew a picture of two mountains. I put a flag on top of one of the mountains. I asked the young and talented referees, how are you going to reach the top? They all said step by step or go around to the top. In my opinion, if you want to be a top referee you must go straight to the top. The sooner the better. This is the mentality of a top sports person. Why waste your time?

You must also be strict and honest with yourself. What are your strengths? The top referees I have met around the world never talk about the negatives. When I was a referee I always looked and tried to find the points where I can improve because these to me are the most important things.

The other things are decision making, dealing with critics, dealing with negative decisions, your reliability. This is determined by your own personal qualities. How is your communication with players? Some referees don’t like to talk to the players. I think refereeing is about communication. When you whistle everyone is watching you. You have to be very clear about your decision. You have to be clear to the player that that’s your decision and it’s final. This action is not only just for the players but also for the coaches, the teammates, the spectators, everyone in the stadium.”

Mario remembers his most memorable moment in his career as follows:

“It occurred not during the game but after the game. It was a World Cup Qualifying game for France 1998, Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Saturday 11 October 1997 between England and Italy. The end result was 0-0. Both teams hit the post in the last 4 minutes. Everybody was mentally and physically dead. The match was a high speed formula one race. England at that time had qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France and Italy was coming into the playoffs.

After the game, both the coaches, Glen Hoddle and Maldini Snr, the father of Paolo Maldini, were both in the referee’s room. Also in the referee’s room were the Italian players De Livio – who I had just sent off – as well as Vieri, and the English players Gascoigne, Seaman and Ince. In Italy the referee’s rooms are very big. There was a fridge in the room and I said to my assistant to offer them all a drink. We all sat down for 10 minutes as the players were not in a hurry to go to the press conference because they were all exhausted. This was for me a highlight of my career. The feeling to be together, my assistants, the players, the coaches. During those 10 minutes, I had the feeling; this is what I trained for. I had already refereed for 20 years but this moment [spending time with the players] was worth the whole 20 years of my career. It had all come together at that moment.”

Michel Vautrot – “The relaxed referee will be able to cope with the pressure of his environment”

Michel Vautrot – France (active career: 1963 – 1991)
Michel Vautrot – France (active career: 1963 – 1991)

For 15 years, until 1990, Vautrot was a FIFA referee, who saw action at the highest level, taking charge of a wealth of matches at French domestic, European and world level. In giving invaluable advice while fostering the development of referees in France and abroad, Vautrot always tells up-and-coming young match officials that the more relaxed they are as referees, the better their chances of progress.

Vautrot reflects as follows on his career and referees in general: “You can equate the referee’s job in certain ways to that of a pilot flying a plane with a lot of passengers. If you see that the pilot is nervous before the flight, you would want to get off the plane. If he is confident, everyone feels fine. If a referee remains relaxed and lucid, it helps him take the right decisions. Referees are also orchestra conductors. If the musicians – the players – are in the right mood, then the referee can make his contribution to a successful ‘concert’ through his natural authority and serenity, and by inspiring confidence.”

“I always give priority to human aspects of refereeing,” Vautrot explains. “A good referee is one who is capable of applying the rules in an intelligent manner, and he must be able to feel the spirit of the game. It is also imperative now that he studies tactics, because the way that teams play can help him understand a game.

“You must learn to stamp your personality on a match. Your personality is very important to refereeing so it is imperative that you be yourself and stay natural. A player will see straight through an official who is pretending to be someone he is not”

Part 2 to follow …