The head of Europe’s referees, the Italian Pierluigi Collina, has backed Michael Oliver over his decision to award that dramatic late penalty for Real Madrid against Juventus in their Champions League semi-final second leg, later dismissing Gianluigi Buffon for his subsequent aggression. Collina, 58, UEFA’s chief refereeing officer was speaking ahead of the Champions League final in Kiev for the first time about the incident that saw the English referee at the eye of the storm, and his wife Lucy subject to online threats. Buffon has since apologised for the extent of his attack on Oliver during and then after the game, and the Italy international has been charged by UEFA. On Oliver giving a penalty for Medhi Benatia’s collision with Lucas Vazquez, Collina said it was “a penalty correctly given”. “It’s an interpretation of the incident. The referee saw what happened, he made an assessment and made a decision.” Collina defended his decision to appoint Oliver to the match despite his relative lack of experience. He said: “I can only say one thing: the referee for that match had 199 Premier League matches at that point. I refereed 240 matches in Serie A in my whole career.” Nevertheless, in a wide-ranging interview, Collina admitted that mistakes by other referees had meant that the standard in the Champions League this season had fallen below the standards he expects and that UEFA needs to develop a new generation of officials to replace those retiring. He said that Leroy Sane’s disallowed goal against Liverpool in the second leg of Manchester City’s quarter-final, refereed by Spaniard Antonio Mateu Lahoz should have stood. He also said that Slovenian referee Damir Skomina should have given Roma a penalty for a handball by Trent Alexander-Arnold in the second leg of Liverpool’s semi-final.
Speaking about refereeing in the Champions League and Europa League in 2017-2018, Collina said that he had been pleased with the standard of the previous two seasons and at Euro 2016. “The refereeing was considered a very high standard. We were very, very happy. There may have been one or two that weren’t as expected but the full picture was positive. We were expecting another successful season [in 2017-2018]. We have to admit and be honest when things don’t go as expected. Some things were not as expected. We are already working for the next season. We are trying to understand why we were not as successful as before. It would be easy for us to say we were unlucky. Being lucky is one of the reasons you are successful but it’s not the main reason.” He said that UEFA was facing “a change in refereeing”. “We had some referees who retired in the last years, referees who were involved in top matches. Carlos Velasco (Spain), Mark Clattenburg (England), Nicola Rizzoli (Italy), Martin Atkinson (England). Losing these referees means we need a new generation of referees. We can’t trade like clubs do with players and bring them in from Asia and South America. We need to work with the ‘academy’. We need to build up new referees and offer them experiences. Building up a reputation and a name, it’s a matter of how you are known. When there is change it can happen that a season is not so successful.” On the mistakes themselves, Collina pointed out that in the second leg in Rome the players themselves had not reacted to the Alexander-Arnold incident. “Daniele De Rossi asked Dzeko, ‘What happened?’ and Dzeko said ‘Nothing’. On the field, the Roma players didn’t realise. It was a handball and a penalty but human beings did not notice the incident. I was watching on TV and only after three replays I saw it. The commentators didn’t realise.” For the Sane goal, when the ball was inadvertently played to him by James Milner, Collina said that decision “was not an interpretation. It was a matter of fact. It was who touched the ball last, before it went to Alexander-Arnold? Defender or attacker?”
Collina explained that there were huge problems introducing VAR across the Champions League – a much more complicated challenge than at a World Cup or Confederations’ Cup staged in a few venues in a single country. Also chairman of FIFA’s referees committee, he said that World Cup officials has been part of a two and a half year programme to introduce them to VAR involving training and seminars. VAR would be operated from a central location in Moscow. He said that bringing all footage into UEFA’s centre in Nyon in Switzerland was fraught with problems including dealing with a range of broadcasters across Europe. “If someone in Russia decides to dig his garden and cuts the fibre the feed doesn’t arrive in Nyon. There is a back-up satellite, but at Euro 2012 there was a strong in Donetsk which cut the satellite. No-one could see the France - Ukraine game.” UEFA has chosen, like the Premier League, not to introduce VAR next season. “With all respect to other competitions, we care about the Champions League,” Collina said. “We cannot say that because it is not easy we mustn’t do it. We will work and go through all details but it takes time. When it happens will depends on of we are ready or not. The league with the biggest revenue in the world [the Premier League] wants to be sure before they start with VAR – we are the same.” On the issue of whether aggression towards referee in elite games filtered down to abuse and attacks on referees at grassroots, Collina said that he was not convinced there was a link but that the game did have a responsibility. “We need to be careful because the young referees at grassroots level are constantly at risk and we need them in the community. “Football helps people to grow and work together and stay together to achieve a goal together, which is all part of life. Instead of people being grateful, they are attacking referees. How is that possible? We need to be very careful about every message we give. I don’t know if there is a clear link between bad behaviour at the elite level and referee attacks at grassroots. We need to take any action to protect referees who give service to all the community”.
Source: The Independent