Collina: “The referee’s shape now is a professional footballer’s shape”

- Firstly, can you reflect a little on Euro 2016? You must have been very happy with the high refereeing standards.
- The standard of refereeing at Euro 2016 was very high. I have to say that four years ago in Poland and Ukraine, the standard was already very high, and it was not easy to improve from that level. But we were confident, because we knew how much work the referees had done, and how committed they were in preparing for the tournament. So it is not a surprise, because I am convinced that if you work hard, the results come. Nevertheless, I am very happy, and I have to thank the referees for their commitment, because we demanded a lot from them in terms of preparation for this tournament… and they were very, very committed.
- There were only three red cards in the tournament, and only one straight red card. Does the higher standard of refereeing go hand in hand with better player behaviour?
- Certainly the number of cards depends on the behaviour of the players. I think something that made a difference, and this was something we had already experienced in 2008 and 2012, was the programme that we ran before the competition, when we visited the national team camps and showed the coaches, staff and players the same instructions that we gave to the referees. The objective was to have everyone on the field of play speaking the same language, so they all knew what to expect.
- High standards do not happen by accident. Can you tell us a little about the preparation that goes into achieving and maintaining these standards?
- There are three pillars of match preparation. Certainly, referees need to know the Laws of the Game and how to interpret them, and we had several seminars before the tournament – in February, then in April, and again before the tournament kick-off. Euro 2016 was particular for this matter, because the IFAB [International Football Association Board] introduced several changes that were really important, such as the new rules on denying a goal-scoring opportunity and the new sanction for handball. Then there’s fitness preparation. For some time, we have been running very accurate monitoring of all our referees through our head of fitness, Werner Helsen, and his staff. They monitor the referees throughout the season, so they know exactly how they are, what the standards are like and what they have to do. So the level of physical preparation [for Euro 2016] was high. Once more, it was really hard or almost impossible to distinguish players from referees, because their shape now is really a professional footballer’s shape. They look like the players that they are refereeing. The third pillar is knowledge of football – the tactical preparation. We have been working on this for some years, trying to give the referees support. For the EURO, we introduced a new role, so we had a team of match analysts: UEFA-licensed coaches who compiled reports on the 24 teams, analysing how they played in different moments of a match and highlighting the technical characteristics of the players. They analysed the teams for six months before the Euro, and before every Euro match one of the analysts briefed the referees at our headquarters, and the team reports were updated during the competition. This gave added value to the referees’ team – not only to the referees, but also the assistant referees, because information concerning offside was also given.
- You spoke about the Euro for only five minutes in your initial presentation. What were the objectives of the pre-season gathering?
- Yes, because as much as we would like to speak about something that was successful, the Euro is over. It’s in the past. We have a very important season ahead of us, starting with the play-offs, one of the key moments of the season. We want to have our referees ready for the beginning of the competition, and also for the group stage of the Champions League and the Europa League. For the women at the pre-season gathering, it is also an important season, even more so because of the Women’s Euro in the Netherlands next year. The aim is to check how they are, and prepare them for the forthcoming season. 
- How are the referees educated, how are they tested, and how important is interpretation of the laws?
- The knowledge is crucial. The pre-season gathering started with a test on the Laws of the Game, particularly concerning the changes. There were two types of test: a written test and a video test, where we want the referees to give us their interpretations of the incidents shown. During your presentations, you reviewed video clips and offered constructive criticism, even when the referees involved were present
- Is that something that happens throughout the season?
- The best way to learn is to see something, and you can learn from the experience you had and this opportunity should also be given to those who did not have this experience. So if we show a clip, and there is something that did not work, this is not to blame the referee, but to offer the experience that this referee had to all the other referees, because the same thing could happen to them next time round. Normally, we do it during our seminars, but, as we cannot have seminars too often, we have implemented a web platform, so that whenever there is something important to be learned, explained or shown to the referees, we create a clip with a comment, and send it to a referee or group of referees. We do the same for assistants and observers. It is not just a matter of saying “this was wrong”, and then giving the reason; for us it is actually more important to give the reason, and we might also say “this was right, and this is the reason”. Positive things can also come from a mistake if you understand the reason.

Source: UEFA Direct