Role Models, Part 3

The third part of  referees I consider as role models – see the criteria here – is long overdue.

Pierluigi Collina – “A football game is a string of episodes. Each episode sparks a decision in your head as to how you should handle the situation”

Pierluigi Collina - Italy (active career: 1977 - 2005)

Pierluigi Collina, a financial adviser by trade, now helps to oversee match officials in Italy’s top 2 divisions (Serie A and Serie B) and serves as a member of UEFA’s Referees Committee.

Born in Bologna, he began officiating at just 17 and spent 14 years working his way up the ladder before he was  allowed to officiate in Italy’s Serie B and A in 1991. He earned his Fifa badge in 1995.

He lost all his hair at the age of 24 – in just 15 days – to a severe form of alopecia and to this day still does not know how it came about.

Voted by the IFFHS as Best Referee six years in a row (1998-2003), he also tops the IFFHS  list as the best referee of all time by a wide margin.

He professes to being unaffected whether he is a refereeing in front of 80,000 people or one.  “The concentration is so high you do not realize what is surrounding you” – but admits mistakes will always be made:  “If a player misses his first pass, he must continue, forget it, otherwise he could not play. It’s the same for referees” Collina says.

“We are only human. In Seria A [Italy’s top league] there are 20 – 24 cameras positioned at different angles – it is not easy to compare that with just two eyes. Nowadays it is a hard job. We as referees have to accept that there is a match played on the field and there is another shown by the television. There is no place to hide. It is very difficult when you take decision because it is based on your angle of vision, but the camera’s positioning in a different way shows something you couldn’t see.

This makes it very challenging and very difficult for referees. You have maybe less than half second to decide something, and a half-second is nothing. It is all a matter of speed. I think it is very unfair to blame a referee always because he was wrong. It is impossible to see everything live and sometimes people blame referees only because a small camera has shown something that is impossible to be seen by the human eyes. People must realize that there is a limit on humans, not on the technology.”

He had this to say about credibility and plaudits from fellow referees and players: “Nothing comes by chance. You need to earn the respect and also the credibility in refereeing. Credibility is very very important and only a stupid person can think he’s perfect and never makes a mistake. It is important to remember and know that you can fail, that you make a mistake. I was very, very happy that I reached this kind of credibility and acceptance by the players.”

He is one of the rare European match officials that officiated most of the EUFA honours available to a referee: The 1996 Olympic Final (Nigeria vs Argentina), the 1999 Champions League Final (Bayern Munich vs. Manchester United), the 2004 EUFA Cup Final (Valencia vs. Olympique Marseille), the World Cup Final in 2002 (Brazil vs. Germany) and participated in numerous EURO matches.

As Man Utd. celebrated two injury-time goals, Collina attempts to comfort a distraught, sprawled Stefan Effenberg of Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League Final

The 1999  UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United FC and FC Bayern München in Barcelona was one of the memorable moments in his career:

“I will always remember it for different reasons – first of all, the reaction of the [Manchester] United supporters when they scored their second goal, it was an incredible noise, like a lion’s roar,” he remembers “Then, there was the reaction of the Bayern players – their disappointment as they fell down on the pitch after conceding that goal. The contrasting reactions of happiness and sadness, and the sad eyes of captain Lothar Matthäus when he looked at the trophy – all very unforgettable.”

Matthäus  captained Bayern in the 1987 European Cup Final and lost in similar circumstances to two late FC Porto goals. Matthäus had been substituted with just four minutes remaining, with victory seemingly assured, and the European Cup was the only major trophy he had failed to win during his career. This led commentator Clive Tyldesley to say: “What must Lothar Matthäus be thinking?” as United scored their 2nd goal within the space of 2 minutes in added time, then adding the comment: “Well, with the greatest respect, who cares?”

Matthäus later commented that “it was not the best team that won but the luckiest.”

Looking back at his career as active referee, Collina was recently asked what his greatest experience was, given that he was involved in many finals and high level games. His answer was not obvious:

“It is easy to say the World Cup Final, the Olympic Final, a Champions League Final, a UEFA Cup Final or matches like Barcelona-Real Madrid, England-Scotland; and plenty of other matches I refereed in like some Italian derbies, Milan-Inter, Roma-Lazio. There were many interesting and emotional games. Those are easy to speak about.

When I became a referee at 17 I became involved with players older than me. This is something that helps you to be more mature, to build up your personality. If I look back to my past as a referee, certainly I liked the big finals. But as I am also a man, I have absolutely to be grateful to the experience because it made me what I am now. A man. One of the main problems for people in every activity is decision making. It is something that can’t be taught … making a decision under stress is something you have to learn, for example, if you want to be a top manager in any big company. How better to learn these things than to be a referee?”

Players universally admired his sense of fairness, summed up by Marco Materazzi, the Internazionale defender, when Collina announced his retirement in 2005: “A referee as good as Collina should be cloned”

But perhaps the ultimate compliment paid to Collina came from the corrupt Juventus official Luciano Moggi, head instigator of the 2006 Italian football scandal. In a phone call intercepted by police investigators, Moggi was overheard complaining that Collina (and fellow referee Roberto Rosetti) were too “objective” in matches involving Juventus and in true Mafia style commented that these officials’ should be “punished” for it. [See the Italian 2006 Football scandal & wiretap recordings]