During his career, Pierluigi Collina officiated so diligently and competently that he was voted the world's best referee for six consecutive years between 1998 and 2003. The Italian redefined the role and became the first star referee. Collina set great store by working hard and meticulously preparing himself for games. He left nothing to chance, preferring instead to be equipped for every eventuality he might face during a match. He still exudes that same professionalism, albeit now from the sidelines rather than on the pitch. At the FIFA Referee Seminar in Abu Dhabi, the football fans that congregate around the pitches at the training complex may be focused on Collina, but his attention is fixed on observing 36 of the world's best referees, who have travelled to the United Arab Emirates in order to train for forthcoming events.
Collina has been Chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee since the beginning of this year and is appreciative of his new role: "It's a great privilege to be able to work in this position." While he patrols the touchline in Abu Dhabi, observing how the referees perform in diverse match situations, his commitment and dedication is palpable. Just as Collina was determined to do his absolute best while he was a referee, he is now driven to bring out the best in the next generation of officials. "Our aim is to prepare the referees for the FIFA Club World Cup and the FIFA World Cup," he said. "Together with Massimo Busacca and the other instructors we strive to get them in top shape so that they can perform to the best of their abilities there." Collina communicates with his charges in a calm and considerate manner, offering them words of advice. Their body language is analysed and their positioning on the pitch is discussed. "FIFA competitions attract a lot of attention and that creates a lot of pressure," Collina explained. It is therefore all the more important to accompany the referees in the best way possible. The first referees' seminars with a view to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia were held two years ago. The number of participants has continuously declined since then, and the final list of officials to participate at Russia 2018 is scheduled to be announced early next year. While being at a World Cup is the objective of every FIFA referee, officiating the Final is the ultimate dream. Collina achieved that at Korea/Japan 2002 when he took charge of the title-decider between Germany and Brazil. "But you can't compare refereeing today with what it used to be like," he said. At that tournament, Collina and his team studied videos of the teams and their characteristics in their hotel room in Yokohama, whereas nowadays referees are offered support during their match preparation. "We've had licenced coaches as part of our team since the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, working with us and giving the referees information on the teams, their tactics and their players. The feedback from the referees has been extremely positive." Given such developments in refereeing, the only question that remains is whether or not Collina would like to reprise his former role out on the pitch. "I still dream about refereeing matches," he said. "But I have to accept that that time and that chapter of my life are over. Having said that, I love being involved in the game in this way now. I'm always there if help is needed. The referees can count on me." And having stressed that final point, Collina returned his full attention to matters at hand out on the pitch.