Not only the players taking part in the UEFA European U-19 Championship are gaining an invaluable education on and off the field in Greece – for the officials too, it is proving to be a unique opportunity to develop and enhance their own performances. The refereeing team in Greece see the U-19 finals as an invaluable career milestone and a chance to learn from colleagues from other countries.
Eight referees and eight assistant referees arrived in Katerini four days prior to the start of the tournament, each bringing with them their own histories and experiences. With the guidance of UEFA Referees Committee member Jaap Uilenberg (Netherlands) and three UEFA referee observers, Konrad Plautz (Austria), Murat Ilgaz (Turkey) and Alexandru Deaconu (Romania), they have been finding out even more about their roles and honing their skills, just like the players. "In this kind of tournament we don't know each other when we arrive, so we have to build our team and have good discussions so we can know each other when we're working together at a game," said Swedish referee Andreas Ekberg, for whom this is not entirely a new experience. He was chosen to referee the final of the European U-17 Championship in Malta in 2014, and is now adding further strings to his bow in Greece. "Every tournament is unique," he continued. "Of course we see new influences from our colleagues and observers. When you are a domestic referee you create new friends at home. When you are an international referee you make friends all over Europe and the world, so it's fantastic. We learn from each other. We have influences from Italy, England, Sweden, Luxembourg, Czech Republic – from everywhere. We take some things from each other, and then, of course, there are the guidelines to follow, and we just learn. It's perfect." For assistant referee Ricardo Fernandes Morais from Luxembourg, it is an invaluable opportunity, and one he is cherishing. "I can only learn here," he told UEFA.com. "There are referees here who are performing regularly in the Premier League and in the top Italian league, and this kind of experience helps me improve my own performance. I can only be happy to be here and to learn, and to be with these referees and these assistants on the pitch – what more could I ask for? Being here with all these referees, my own experience can only improve. For me, it's the best. I cannot ask for more than this. For us and for me, it's beautiful." The focus at a tournament like the U-19 event is on developing qualities in a team environment. Fitness is an important factor, with the speed of the game increasing all the time, while speed of mind is also a key quality. UEFA's referee observers have been analysing the referees' performances and showing "lots of clips" to help them get difficult decisions right, as Ekberg explained. "We train together, speak together – it's very important," he said. "It's all done so we can perform as well as possible. It's the whole package. I love football, and [by being a referee] I am still in the football family, so it's perfect".