On the one week eve of the second leg Round of 16 UCL second leg clash between Real Madrid and Manchester United, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about a quality required of all referees. Courage.

The quote that inspired me on this quality is one from Pierluigi Collina himself.

“The best referee is one who has the courage to make decisions even when it would be easier not to.”

It was indeed a courageous decision by Turkish UEFA Elite Referee, Cüneyt Çakır (pronounciation: Jun-eet Cha-kir), to dismiss Luis Nani for a kick on Alvaro Árbeloa while Nani attempted to control the ball. The result? Nani gingerly picked himself up off the ground after suffering from the recoil of the collision and the fall. He turned slightly and to his absolute bewilderment saw the red card and order for dismissal from the referee. 74595 fans showed their shock in unison as the home crowd roared in surprise in Old Trafford at the decision but the referee held firm without so much as a twitch. Courage indeed. It would be interesting to see the result of the Referee Observer and in my opinion, the best referee in the world, Pierluigi Collina who was in attendance in the stands of Old Trafford if we were able to hear anything about his report to UEFA.

Regardless of the accuracy of the decision, the referee can sense from the game atmosphere whether an impending decision is likely to cause uproar and disagreement but it’s those referees who truly believe in their decision and have the courage to give it that truly perform in their role. To be unaffected by the emotions and pressure of the people outside the boundary lines of the field when taking a decision is a quality we must all be able to uphold.

Metropolitan Washington Soccer Referee Association (MWSRA) describes the quality of courage as:

As important as Integrity is to a referee, it is meaningless without the courage to do what the official knows to be right. Whether it is denying an appeal for a “handball” that the referee deems to be unintentional, turning a deaf ear to loud appeals for a penalty kick by a team whose star striker has tripped over the ball rather than a defender’s foot, calling a penalty kick late in the game for a foul that only the Referee and the defender know happened inside the penalty area, or keeping the offside flag down because a player who is racing ten yards past the last defender was onside when the ball was kicked, the referee cannot make the call that will cause the least amount of grief. Rather, he must make the call that he believes to be the right one. Soccer is a game of energy and excitement, and disappointment over a call, or no-call, is often expressed angrily and loudly. But we have other tools for dealing with expressions of disappointment that get out of hand; avoiding the problem by making the wrong call is not one of them.

Peter Frojfeldt begins his pre-game discussion in Euro 2008 highlighting the importance of courage in their decision-making.


Cakir’s perfect use of Body Language to show fortitude and courage

Unfortunately courage comes at an expense post-game when coaches, fans, spectators and players make their feelings known and this expense can be quite the intimidation factor at all levels although the extent and duration varies. I agree with Graham Poll’s article on the demonisation of officials following a big match. Damned if they do. Damned if they don’t.

“In summary the supposedly card happy Cakir showed restraint when the game was forming, followed intrusion and was brave enough to dismiss the home player, fully understanding the fall-out from that decision. He then stayed firm and true to his principles in a very hostile environment.

I’ve experienced that hostility, and you just want the ground to swallow you up. But you take yourself away from it, telling yourself ‘you’ll be off the pitch in a minute, it will be fine’.”

Courage. It’s important.

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