Anders Frisk and Urs Meier were among the best referees in the world, each taking charge of many a vital match, including appearances at the FIFA World Cup™ and UEFA European Championships. Both are now retired, but the experienced pair currently belong to the FIFA instructors team, passing on their experience to young hopefuls at refereeing seminars.
As members of a 36-strong group of qualified FIFA referee instructors, the pair were in Zurich for a workshop as part of the FUTURO III project, where FIFA.com caught up with the former top FIFA match officials.
FIFA.com: What are your impressions of the refereeing course?
Frisk: Actually, it's my first go at being an instructor. I'm extremely impressed at the work that's gone in to this course. The instructors of the future can look forward to many good things.
Meier: The most important thing is to expand your horizons, stop thinking only in regional or national terms, and think global. We all share a common language, so it's enormously helpful to be here, learning things together.
How would you rate the training facilities?
Frisk: Oh, I'd say ten out of ten.
Meier: If we were handing out hotel-style ratings, the facilities here really are seven-star.
What are your priorities as a FIFA instructor?
Frisk: We're making materials available to the entire world, all with an identical message, so that we apply the laws of the game consistently and even-handedly around the world.
What have been the biggest changes in refereeing over recent years?
Meier: The pressure and expectations have increased. You feel the pressure on referees growing with every passing year. There are more and more TV stations broadcasting shows about football and refereeing. On top of that, the game has become faster and more technically adept. And given the new generation of artificial turf pitches, I'm certain the game will be even faster a couple of years from now. That makes the referee's job even harder.
What in your opinion would represent a major step forward for referees?
Meier: I believe professionalism takes top priority. We need professional refs in the future. Next, we have to apply the same laws of the game worldwide. Some countries are following different rules. The laws have to be the same in every country.
Frisk: And that's exactly why we're here.
How would you go about persuading young people to take up refereeing?
Frisk: By talking about our experiences. Obviously, we've all had difficult moments, but you learn from those. However, the main thing for me is the positive side, spending time with your friends, being actively involved in football. If you love the game, refereeing is certainly one of the most interesting things you can do. And it helps you grow in your everyday life too.
What qualities do you need to be a good referee?
Meier: One of the most important characteristics is a strong personality. You need to like football and people, but the most important thing is to be open, and also show that you enjoy refereeing and being part of the game.
Frisk: Your attitude towards sport is important. You need to be a good communicator, and to be positive in your body language. That way, you earn trust and credibility from the people around you.
Meier: And you have to be honest, both with other people and also with yourself.
What was your most difficult match?
Meier: It was a UEFA Champions League qualifier in Zagreb between Croatia Zagreb and Newcastle United in 1997. Only one team could go through to the next round, and there was a huge amount of money at stake. That was a very tough match for me.
Frisk: In my case, it was the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup Final between Brazil and Mexico in Mexico City. It was a real challenge, coping with the pressure, but remaining strong and neutral.
And what's your fondest memory?
Frisk: That same match, and also the EURO 2000 Final.
Meier: My first FIFA World Cup match in 1998. It was USA versus Iran at the Stade Gerland in Lyon on 21 June. Taking charge of a World Cup match had always been my personal goal - and then suddenly, there I was. It was a special match, a historic match, and a very special atmosphere. It basically just all came together. I even shed tears before the match, because it was the moment I achieved my greatest goal, reaching the summit of Mount Everest if you will.
How do you manage to focus on the match in such an amazing atmosphere?
Frisk: That's what many people who've never refereed like to ask. You simply switch off. You forget the pressure and the crowd, although you're sometimes still aware of it all, because you're enjoying the atmosphere yourself.
Meier: The instant you've blown for kick-off, you forget everything going on around you. You just focus on the task at hand.
What are the qualities you most admire about Urs Meier?
Frisk: We've been together at any number of tournaments and seminars. It's definitely something very special when you come across a guy who's so much fun to be with. You know you'll have a laugh, and you look forward to seeing him.
What are the qualities you most admire about Anders Frisk?
Meier: All I can do is repeat the above. I was unbelievably pleased for him when he was given the EURO 2000 Final. I didn't consider him to be a rival, he was a friend who'd made it, and I was simply delighted for him. We've never been rivals down the years, just very close friends. We had a wonderful time together.
At the FIFA World Cup for example, the referees are often described as the 33rd team. Is that correct?
Meier: Absolutely, without a doubt. Obviously every ref wants to take charge of the Final of a tournament. But it's always a fair competition. You do your best on and off the field, and then you hope they'll give you the Final. Whatever happens, Fair Play is the order of the day.