With the start of the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 approaching fast, the men in black are all set. Having arrived at their base near Frankfurt several days ago, the 30 referees and assistants for the tournament spent Sunday completing their customary physical tests.
FIFAworldcup.com took the opportunity to meet the men who will take charge of the 16 FIFA Confederations Cup matches and heard the following assessment from Werner Helsen, their physical trainer: "Naturally, they've been a touch nervous over the last few days, but it all went well in the end."
And there is no denying that following the hour's session on Sunday morning, under a cloudy but rainless sky, the fitness of the officials could not be faulted. After stringing together a 20-minute warm-up, a sprinting session and another endurance exercise, nobody seemed to have the slightest difficulty recovering.
Yet, as Helsen explained, these exercises were a bit different to those carried out previously. "FIFA has a long tradition in the physical testing of referees, but this year, we decided to introduce a new programme with the 2006 World Cup in mind," he said. "It's been a sharp learning curve for them but they've found it beneficial."
Present at the tournament to co-ordinate preparation, the Spaniard Jose Maria Garcia Aranda is providing the benefit of his vast experience to those who will be in charge of matches come Wednesday. "Our aim is to make refereeing more professional. We're trying to find the best way to make the training as similar as possible to real match conditions," said FIFA's head of refereeing. A vital aim when you consider that, whereas a player changes pace (sprint, slow run, change of direction, etc.) every six seconds, a referee has to do so every four.
Every day, a specific training session will be held. "Those who have refereed the day before will have a recovery programme, those who are preparing to take charge of a match will do specific physical work, and those who are between two games will take part in physical and technical workshops," said Helsen.
The technical side will be overseen by Garcia Aranda, on the basis of video analyses and on-pitch exercises. "We work as a team and everyone can help each other; the aim is to make progress together," he said. A better-run FIFA Confederations Cup this month will pave the way for a better FIFA World Cup in 2006.