The demands of officiating at the very highest level have meant that increasing numbers of the world's match officials feel the need to take their preparations ever more seriously.

The sheer pace of the game played by today's top footballers has seen a continual increase in the physical demands placed on top-level match officials. When one also considers the intense scrutiny of the ranks of ever-present TV cameras, referees wishing to enjoy a successful international career need to be at the very peak of their powers.  

While formidable reserves of stamina and an in-depth knowledge of the rules of the game are a given for modern officials, these attributes alone are no longer sufficient to reach the very top of the profession. As a result, many referees have chosen to specialise in a variety of academic fields in order to further their careers. 

A case in point is 26-year-old FIFA referee Efthalia Mitsi, who has recently completed an International Master (MA) in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport, also known as the FIFA Master. A native of the Greek capital Athens, Mitsi is the first FIFA referee to have taken part in and completed the prestigious post-graduate course.

The FIFA Master is the brainchild of FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, and is co-organised by the  International Centre for Sport Studies  (CIES) and three European Universities, with the active support of world football's governing body.

Learn more about the FIFA Master

For those who fail to see what being a top-class referee has to do with a post-graduate degree in Sports Law and Management, Efthalia - who also has a degree in Physical Education - is more than happy to enlighten them. She sees the MA as the perfect way to expand her academic knowledge within the field of sport, and aid her understanding of "the natural dynamic of modern sport, a world which is in a continuous process of evolution." 

"In my honest opinion," she said, "the role of a football referee encompasses the three different disciplines that make up the Master. A referee must be fair and ethical, and we discuss this in the Humanities module; he or she must also be ready to take important decisions and take control of a game played by 22 other people, just like a good manager; and of course, he or she needs to be able to apply the Laws of the Game."

Each one of the FIFA Master's three modules is carried out in a different country (United Kingdom, Italy and Switzerland). Efthalia, who started refereeing in 1998 and joined the ranks of FIFA officials in 2005, believes that the experience was a perfect way to learn about footballing customs and gain a greater appreciation of how the beautiful game is played in different countries.

Like any ambitious young referee, Efthalia dreams of officiating at major tournaments and the talented young official appears to be well on her way to achieving that goal, having already refereed a qualifying game for the FIFA Women's World Cup.

The ambitious Athenian does not, though, believe in any secret recipe for success, putting her faith in the value of old-fashioned hard work. "I'm 100% dedicated (to my job), I give it everything I've got and I always try and do my best," she said. "At the end of the day, you can't ask for any more than that. Will I ever get the chance to referee at a World Cup? Who knows. But it won't be through a lack of determination and hard work."