Collina: “Assistant referees are checked for their shape”

Leading assistant referees have been in Cyprus this week for their latest UEFA course. UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina tells us about the role and training of assistant referees.
- What is the reason for bringing the assistant referees to Cyprus this week?
- Pierluigi Collina: To prepare for matches in UEFA competitions in the second half of the season and because we consider the contribution of assistant referees to be crucial. It is obviously important that referees are on top form, but they need assistant referees to be at the top of their game as well for a good overall performance.
- Does assistant referee training have its own specific characteristics?
- Collina: Absolutely. The training of assistant referees compared with referees is different in terms of physical preparation. We have training programmes and fitness tests that are specific to assistants. The focus is more on speed, in particular over short distances, as well as acceleration, agility, changing direction and sideways running. We put particular emphasis on training for offside incidents. We have created a special computer-based system for the assistants when they are back home, in which offside situations have been set up and they can practise taking the correct decisions.
- Good communication and teamwork between referees, assistant referees and additional assistant referees is essential. What work do you do with assistant referees?
- Collina: The assistants use the communication system at matches and they have to work out a way to be very fast, on time, clear and convincing in their communication. We give them guidelines and criteria, and it is part of their pre-match preparation with the referee and additional assistants to agree on what works best for the team in terms of communication during a match.
- You ask referees to prepare for matches by studying teams' tactics and players' characteristics. Do you make the same request to assistant referees?
- Collina: Yes. They should be fully prepared in knowing how teams play, because the way teams play defensively, for instance, can make each match completely different, especially regarding offside situations. We ask them to study players and know what they are likely to do on the field. For example, a player may be good with his left foot, but not so good with his right, so it may be more difficult for that player to make a long pass with his right foot. If assistants know this, they can often predict what a player will do next. It is one of their tasks to look ahead and prepare for what happens next.
- In addition to the UEFA referee fitness team in Cyprus, Werner Helsen and Koen Put, you have brought four assistant referee experts – Leif Lindberg, Philip Sharp, Giovanni Stevanato and Maciej Wierzbowski.
- Collina: It is important to bring onboard people who have had many years of experience on the field of play. Frankly, myself and the UEFA referee officers here, Hugh Dallas and Marc Batta, while we coach the referees, we can't give fully specialist help to assistant referees. I've never been an assistant referee in my life! So it's good to have former top assistants with us who have the knowledge and who bring additional value to our work.
- How has the role of the assistant referee changed over the years, especially in the high-level game?
- Collina: The speed of the game is the main change. Everything is done faster. This, and the ability of players to do difficult things very quickly, has made the job of the referees and assistants more demanding. But I must say that we are pleased with what we see from the assistants at matches, in training and in the tests. If you compare today with six, seven years ago, there is a huge difference in terms of image. The assistant referees are checked for their shape. For example, they are tested for body fat percentage, because this is important. If you are five kilos overweight, it is difficult for an assistant referee to be fast in running the line. 
- Some of the assistant referees also face a challenging summer because they will be part of the refereeing team at UEFA Euro 2016. What's the programme between now and then?
- Collina: For Euro we will have 18 referee teams – each consisting of a referee, two assistant referees, two additional assistant referees, and one assistant referee on standby for any possible problem that might occur between the end of February, when we make the announcement about the full referee teams selected for Euro 2016, and the beginning of the competition in June. So we are now hard at work preparing the specific Euro course which will take place in France in the third week of April. All the referee teams – referees, assistants and additional assistants – will be there. They will undergo fitness tests and review the application of the technical instructions they have received.

Source: UEFA