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Pierluigi Collina: The most acclaimed referee in football history

There cannot be many, if any, football fans out there who do not instantly recognise the name Pierluigi Collina. The 63 year old’s bald head is almost as synonymous as the memory his names creates given his lengthy and often spoken about career as a professional, and top top quality, referee in the beautiful game.

The Italian spent his long and illustrious career in Italy’s domestic Serie leagues, and having swapped his playing days for a referee’s course back in 1977, his particular aptitude for the job, more than came to the fore and within three years he was already officiating matches at the highest level in the regional leagues. It did not take him long at all to make his mark on the professional game, by 1988 he had already been promoted through to the Serie C1 and C2 level, and within three years he was promoted again to Serie A and B levels, and began working as a Coppa Italia official from 1992 onwards. In 1995 he was officially listed as a FIFA recognised referee for international class encounters.

Obviously not all of us can focus ourselves on being one of the top ref’s in the world, but we can all look to win a jackpot at a live casino, and I would imagine there would be far less stress with that, judging by the songs fans sing at referees during matches, when they don’t agree with the decisions against their team.

At the 1996 Olympic Games, he was handed five matches – including the Final itself between Nigeria and Argentina – and obviously he was now on the list for high profile European encounters as well, and he was in charge of the 1999 UEFA Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United.

In June 2002, he reached the zenith and was chosen to officiate the World Cup final between Brazil and Germany. Fans in the wider world of football, especially those with long memories, may well remember it as being quite the entertaining battle, although in fairness, German international goalkeeper Oliver Kahn will definitely remember it differently. Speaking ahead of the game taking place, he was asked about Collina’s reputation as a referee and his previous experience of him, and he answered.

“Collina is a world-class referee, there’s no doubt about that, but he doesn’t bring luck, does he?”

For those who are not aware, Collina had overseen two prior high profile matches that Kahn had been involved in, the previously mentioned Champions League final that ended in a 2-1 defeat for Bayern, and Germany’s heavy 5-1 defeat by England in September 2001. Kahn was not wrong on the luck front, Brazil came out victorious in a 2-0 victory.

Early on in his career, he did develop a severe form of alopecia, and given his distinctive bald appearances, he lovingly earned the nickname of Kojak but it did make him pretty much immediately recognisable to fans of all clubs, and that notoriety certainly did not end when he was effectively forced to retire in February 2005 as he had reached the mandatory retirement age for a top official. Given his standing in the game, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) basically fiddled the rules a little and raised the retirement age by 12 months, so his last game was actually in 2006 – a World Cup qualifier between Portugal and Slovakia.

A dispute did sadly emerge between Collina and the Federation in August 2005 owing to his decision to accept a sponsorship deal with Opel, who sponsored AC Milan at the time, so it was viewed as a potential conflict of interest and he was removed from the Serie A list – in turn he handed in his resignation and although the Italian Referees Association made attempts to reject that resignation, he pushed through anyway and left the league.

After leaving Serie A, he probably became a more familiar face on United Kingdom television screens as he oversaw Soccer Aid charity matches in May 2006 and September 2008, he also made a 45 minute appearance at the 2010 edition.

Since handing up his proverbial cards and whistle, he has worked as an unpaid consultant to the Italian Football Referees Association (AIA), and he has been the Head of Referees for the Football Federation of Ukraine since 2010. He is also a member of UEFA’s Referees Committee and Chairman of the FIFA referees committee. He was also involved in the introduction and evaluation of the Video Assistant Referee system for the 2018 World Cup.

With numerous advert appearances, the World’s Best Referee and six time consecutive winner, can also often be seen in the press and the media when it comes to all things refereeing related. One of the recent topics he addressed was the change we have all now seen to stoppage time, the way it is calculated and then added onto the end of games – it is now not unknown for matches not to end before 105 minutes have elapsed as they search for a more realistic 90 minutes of action, and some have raised concerns that this will end up effecting the welfare of players with additional minutes played – Collina disagrees.

“For a long time, fans, players, coaches, clubs, competition organisers and the media have pointed to the lack of effective played time in football matches as a problem that needed to be addressed. They considered it unacceptable that a football match has less than 50 minutes of playing time, as we have often seen. After a consultation process in which representatives of all Confederations, including UEFA, took part, IFAB recommended that referees should calculate the additional time more accurately, enforcing the criteria set in the Laws of the Game. This recommendation is not about adding minutes to the game, but compensating time when players are not playing, and only in specific circumstances. If a game has no significant stops, and therefore has been played as normal, there is no need to add more added time. Goal kicks, corner kicks and throw-ins are part of the match and the time spent for them has not to be compensated.”


“Therefore, this recommendation does not affect the players’ welfare but simply compensates for time that has been wasted. I understand that any reforms to the Laws of the Game, or simply their interpretation as is the case, may be viewed with scepticism by some but, as was the case with the introduction of VAR, when the measures are in defence of football, they end up being accepted.”

Premier League fans are still waiting for that ‘defence of football’ development when it comes to VAR, it would be interesting to hear Collina’s thoughts on how we have implemented the system.

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