Close to 200 people got an insight on how retired referee Pierluigi Collina became football’s most famous and successful official. Speaking at the talk entitled “The Art of Decision Making: Transform and Stay on Top of Your Game” conducted by the Singapore Institute of Management, the Italian, who is now head of referees at European football’s governing body UEFA, said a key to being successful is adaptability. “There is always something to be learnt, and it is important to keep learning,” he said at the SingTel Comcentre theatrette today. “The one who survives is not the strongest, but the one who reacts fastest and the best to change, and looking at change as an opportunity and not something to be afraid of.”
Collina, who retired in 2005, is a six-time FIFA Referee of the Year. He is perhaps best known for officiating the 1999 Champions League final where Manchester United beat Bayern Munich 2-1 in dramatic fashion at the Camp Nou, and the 2002 World Cup final in Yokohama where Brazil beat Germany 2-0.
Lasting over an hour, the talk, which is part of SIM’s 50th anniversary learning series, also saw the 54-year-old discuss areas like decision making, his own career and the challenges faced by referees and their assistants. “The referee has less than a second to decide, and everybody knows that a referee’s job is very difficult,” he said. “But everybody also forgets that and starts complaining about the referee’s decision.” If there is one thing that gets under the skin of Pierluigi Collina, it is a lack of understanding and patience towards referees. Collina admitted to being frustrated at the amount of flak that referees get. “This is a pity, because a referee takes 100 decisions in a match and nobody cares about the 99 he takes correctly, unfortunately. It is quite strange,” said the 54-year-old with a shrug of the shoulders on his 1.88m-tall frame. “But it motivates me to always be better. This is what I’ve to do. I cannot fight against people looking for mistakes. The only way to fight is to be better, to try and avoid these mistakes.” Recent controversial incidents included the retirement of former Swedish referee Anders Frisk after being subjected to death threats for sending off former Chelsea forward Didier Drogba in a Champions League game in 2005. Last month, Englishman Andre Marriner was sharply criticised for wrongfully dismissing Arsenal defender Kieran Gibbs in a case of mistaken identity during a Premiership match against Chelsea.
Although football is now a results-driven, multi-billion-dollar business — for last season’s Champions League, UEFA distributed €910 million (S$1.58 billion) across 32 participating clubs — Collina, who retired as a referee in 2005, said people know but often forget the difficulties referees face in having to make split-second decisions under intense pressure. “What can I do? The only thing I can do, as chief refereeing officer with UEFA, is to try to better prepare the referees to improve their quality,” he said. “This is the only thing I can do. I cannot tell anyone to stop talking.” Using the analogy of Spanish bullfighting, he added: “It’s completely different being in front of a bull inside the ring and being seated (as a spectator) and commenting about the matador.” But Collina, who counts former Manchester United captain Roy Keane as one of the toughest characters he has dealt with, remains one of the few referees still widely respected by many of football’s leading figures. Dressed in a white shirt, dark blazer, blue jeans and leather shoes, the Bologna-born, basketball-loving, economics-trained former financial adviser cut an imposing figure as he shared his experiences with close to 200 people at yesterday’s talk, highlighting the importance of being prepared, always predicting what may happen and staying adaptable to change as formulas for success. Now a revered figure and celebrity — he has appeared in commercials for brands such as Adidas — Collina spent about 20 minutes posing for photos and signing autographs. “Of course, there are moments you want your privacy, but you can never say no to someone who asks for a picture or autograph,” he said. “But I’m thankful for being able to do what I love and given important assignments like the World Cup final. I would have paid to be the World Cup final referee, every referee would!”
Collina Fact File
Honours (selected): Six FIFA Referee of the Year titles (1998 to 2003), Italian Football Hall of Fame (2011).
Major assignments: 1996 Olympic final, 1999 Champions League final, 2002 World Cup final, 2004 UEFA Cup final.