In 2008, the English Referees Association was one hundred years old. It marked the occasion in a very grand style with a Centenary Dinner attended by the world’s top football luminaries. The Guest Speaker was Pierluigi Collina, the famous Italian referee.
This was not only a big honour but a surprising one. The British are known to be the ones who introduced the game of football into the world and are known to be very proud of this and, therefore, will not associate any other national with their Centenary Dinner, but Collina was too important to ignore.
They call their association the Football Association and for some time they had and operated different regulations instead of FIFA regulations. They, Ireland and Scotland have the same voting rights like CAF, UEFA and CONCAF, but when it came to acknowledging the world’s best referee at that time, they had no problem in selecting and inviting Collina, an Italian.
Who is Collina?
Born on 13 February, 1960, he is a financial advisor but still heavily involved in football. He is a co-opted member of the FIFA Executive Council in charge of Refereeing. Collina graduated from the University of Bologna in 1984 with an economics degree, but in 1977 he took a referee’s course and found he had a particular aptitude for the job.
Within three years, he was refereeing top level regional matches. In 1988, having completed his military service, he progressed much faster than usual to the national third division. After three years in Serie C1 and C2, he was promoted to officiating Serie B and Serie A matches. About this time, he contracted an illness that resulted in the permanent loss of all his facial hair, giving him his now distinctive bald appearance and “scary eyes”.
In 1995, having officiated in 43 Serie A matches, he became a FIFA referee. His first major tournament was in the 1996 Olympic Games where he handled five matches including the final match between Nigeria and Argentina. It was a gruelling match which Nigeria won 3-2.
Collina steadily became a regular and an easily recognisable figure in major matches, showing an ability to control even the toughest of matches with the unique combination of toughness and humour. In 1999, he refereed the UEFA Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United which he cited as possibly his most memorable game.
In 2002, about a year after he had become one of England’s favourite referees by officiating their 5-1 victory against Germany, he reached the pinnacle of his career when he refereed the World Cup final in Tokyo between Brazil and Germany. His last major final was the 2004 UEFA Cup final between Valencia and Olympique Marseille and a few weeks later Euro 2004 became his last major international tournament.
Collina reached the mandatory retirement age of 45 for FIFA referees in 2005. His last international match was Portugal – Slovakia, for a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier at Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. Collina’s relationship with players was virtually unparalleled. By the end of his career, it seemed he just needed a smile or a scowl to keep players under control.
The world had huge respect for him, which he himself believes benefited the game. He is quoted to have remarked: “If you have good relations with all the players in a match, it is a possible to have a better match, the players can do their job and the referee can control the match better”. He added: “If the players trust and accept a referee and his decisions, I feel that it makes a better game of football”.