I’ve been asked many times whom I would consider to be the top 10 referees in the world. This is a very difficult question of course. Unless you are objective there is the temptation to have your own particular favourite and that will naturally taint your judgement. I will name them – at the end of this piece. I must also point out that the ones I’ve named are currently officiating and are not retired at the time of going to press.
First of all it’s important to select a criterion of what makes a good referee become a top 10 referee.
These are mine and in no particular order:
- Absolute dedication and commitment to the job. It is a job today with more and more associations deciding to have full time match officials.
- The need for fitness is so important because of the speed of the modern game. Players are fitter and faster and match officials must be able to keep up with the play.
- Knowledge of the Laws of the Game and being able to correctly apply the FIFA “Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” as contained on page 119, FIFA LOTG 2014/2015.
- Consistency is a major fault of some match officials. This can lead to confusion and conflict with players and managers. We regularly hear teams complain about inconsistency. Likewise we also hear of coaches saying, “well at least the ref was consistent.”
- Clear and precise signals, either by hand or with the whistle. Some referees blow very weakly and this can give the impression that the referee is not in control. Such action by the referee can be construed by players and coaching staff that the referee is “soft.”
- It’s vital for the referee to display authority from the moment he arrives at the ground, during the game, and especially after the game.
- Dress and appearance on and off the field of play is also very important. Referees should arrive at the ground dressed in a suit and tie (preferably their referee blazer with badge). The on field uniform must be clean, tidy, and pressed. Socks should be pulled up to the knee and boots/shoes MUST be clean and if possible shinny. This immediately gives the impression that the referee is professional in his approach.
- Referees and their assistants must at all times display a level of professionalism when communicating with either team on the day.
- If you are going to issue a yellow or red card do so immediately. This shows the offended player/team that you are in control.
- Do not allow yourself to be crowed or barracked by the players after having made a decision. Assistants should help the referee in this regard by identifying culprits and they should be punished accordingly.
- Match officials should not engage in idle chatter or gossip with players or coaches.
- Do not take or accept a drink from a team during the game. This can give a wrong impression that the referee is “siding” with that particular team.
- By all means be sociable when there is a need.
- Do not engage in after game drinks in the club bar with either team.
- When the game is over complete the formalities and leave the ground, preferably with your assistants, and in the same car until you are well away from the stadium/ground.
- Some referees today have become personalities whether by their own making or by the media at large. Because of this the match officials must be seen to behave in a manner that will not bring themselves or their refereeing association into disrepute
- When I was starting to referee I was always told to apply the three “F’s” – be firm, be fair, and be fit.
To summarize the above, this is what I look for in a referee:
He must be in control.
He must be clear and concise with his signals (hand and whistle).
He must be fit and always up with play.
He must be consistent.
He must be cool and calm under pressure.
He must display the highest level of professionalism before, during, and after the game.
He must have a full and clear knowledge of the FIFA Laws of the Game and their interpretations
He must restrict contact with both teams only to what is required to carry out his duties.
So, who are my top 10? Well again in no particular order:
Viktor Kassai (Hungary)
Nestor Pitana (Argentina)
Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan)
Felix Brych (Germany)
Pedro Proenca (Portugal)
Cuneyt Cahir (Turkey)
Sandro Ricci (Brazil)
Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)
Milorad Mazic (Serbia)
Bjorn Kuipers (Holland)
No doubt many will disagree with me, and that’s your privilege.
Refereeing is a thankless job. You are there to arbitrate between two teams and no matter what decision you make; someone is going to feel aggrieved. For that very reason it’s vital that referees are seen to be fair, honest and objective at all times. The ten named above - and without doubt thousands more who ply their refereeing trade every weekend - do this day-in and day-out with distinction.