Massimo Busacca was a referee for 22 years and officiated at more than 100 top-level international matches, with the 2009 UEFA Champions League final among his most notable. The 42-year-old finished his active career this summer to become the Head of FIFA’s Referees Department. FIFA.com spoke with him about this past year and some of the hot topics in refereeing.
FIFA.com: Massimo, you have switched sides this year, from an active international referee to be the Head of FIFA’s Referees Department. What were the main reasons for the change?
Massimo Busacca: What I did for many years on the pitch now gives me a good opportunity to do the same outside the pitch as well. It’s a great opportunity to try to give what I learned in these years to the elite referees that are coming in the future for our big competitions. It’s not a change, I still continue to live and breathe football every day, but now I do that more from the outside than the inside.
Do you miss being on the pitch?
Oh yes, of course I miss it. It’s like a player, when he finishes playing. I miss it a lot, but on the other hand, it’s good because you are still involved, still hungry and can explain better to the referees what they need to do.
How have your first months at FIFA been? Can you explain to us what your role is?
FIFA is for referees what the national teams are for the players. And I want to be the coach of this national team. We must be like a football team, must live and breathe football every day. My priority is to create this group of elite referees, and we want to work in a professional way. We want to improve them like players are improving day-by-day through training sessions. As players play for their clubs, referees officiate in their national league. Players are then called for the national teams and this is the case with referees who are called to officiate at FIFA tournaments. For this, you obviously need a structure around the world, and that’s why we create a group of instructors. We give a clear message how they have to follow the referees and assure the qualities. This group has to find the best referees to officiate in our competitions.
My priority is to create this group of elite referees, and we want to work in a professional way. We want to improve them like players are improving day-by-day through training sessions.
The best referees will be at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Can you explain to us the process for selection and training? Has it already started?
We already started with the Club World Cup in Japan and selected referees to have a look at their qualities and to see if they were ready to be candidates for 2014. Next year will be crucial. We will create a list of elite referees but the list will be open until the end. So everyone can come in or go out, if he is not fit or doesn’t work in a proper way. This message will be given to all referees and all associations.
The FIFA President mentioned the fact that referees for the World Cup in 2014 would all be professionals. Do you think professionalisation is the key for refereeing?
Like a player, a referee should train every day. We cannot accept anymore a situation where associations do not give the same structure and opportunity to prepare referees. They need a coach or a physical trainer during the week. We need to make sure that they are working properly and live and breathe football every day. Otherwise performance will be just luck. You need to give the referees all they need to prepare themselves. This is professionalism! Professionalism is not just about money. How many teams spend a lot of money but are not winning? The associations are responsible for their referees; they have to do a lot for them. Once referees come to our tournaments, we cannot change them in a one-week course.
We hear a lot about the Referee Assistance Programme. Can you explain to us how it is helping referees to be more efficient?
We are investing a lot of money in the development of referees. There are courses almost every day around the world. What they are doing in development is what we will be doing in the competition. It’s crucial. We have to be sure that our structures around the world are working towards our directions.
In Germany, referee Babak Rafati tried to commit suicide and claimed the raising pressure for referees. How can they be helped to cope with this pressure?
Pressure is everywhere. Today, if you are on a high level in any job, you have pressure. Of course in refereeing it can be more, because a lot of money is involved and one wrong decision can change a lot. But we have to live with that. If I look back to my own career, I was not happy when I took a wrong decision. But I was always thinking that I have to forget immediately, to be ready for the next game. I have a lot of solidarity with Rafati. I can imagine what could have happened. Maybe he didn’t have a good season and he gave refereeing a too high priority. That’s a mistake sometimes. If this goes wrong, then you ask yourself what you are doing.
Together with Peter Mikelsen, you are part of the Task Force 2014 and bring the views of the referees. One of the topics discussed was the ‘triple punishment’ of penalty, red card and suspension. What’s the latest status on this?
The group is in agreement that this triple punishment is too much. We want to find a logical agreement. Only if there is a clear handball on the goalline, or a clear situation where a goal would be scored, then it’s going to be a penalty and a red card. Otherwise, it’s a penalty and a yellow card. This proposal will go to IFAB.
Another hot topic is the use of video technology. What is your position on that matter?
Big players can make mistakes. We don’t give them a replay or another chance to score a clear opportunity. I don’t think it’s the case for referees either, to go and watch what happened. So I’m against video replays. But in goalline technology, we are almost there and I’m convinced that something very soon will arrive, to reduce or to eliminate this problem on the line. The final decision is still with a human being. It’s important to let referees make mistakes as players do as well. We have to change the mentality. Even with professional referees, we won’t eliminate mistakes.
The most important target is to work in a tactical way and to understand football. We don’t want to create a robot. Situations and decisions come from feelings.
Another approach is the one being tested by UEFA, having five referees in European competitions. You have been part of this experiment yourself.
We have been doing this for two or three years now but it’s not the right moment to give conclusions. It’s important to see it during a big competition like UEFA EURO 2012. It’s a good approach, but there is still something missing. We need to have referees with quality. We should not think that two additional referees’ assistants outside can help the referees without this quality. They must be at the same level as the referee. You have to take a lot of important decisions in an important game in a few seconds. We have to see next year if the assistant referees are ready to help the referee in crucial matches.
You have been a referee at high-level matches including the UEFA Champions League final and the FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final at South Africa 2009. How can you bring in your experience in the development of referees?
I’m sure that I can give my experience. I had the opportunity at the Club World Cup in Japan, where I tried to be the coach. I want to give them my experience from 22 years of refereeing in 12 international competitions. The most important target is to work in a tactical way and to understand football. We don’t want to create a robot. Situations and decisions come from feelings. We need to know the laws of the game, but the interpretations are important, as this comes from the personality. We want to let the referee keep his personality.
If you have a Christmas wish, what would it be in regards to refereeing?
We have to improve respect - not only for refereeing, but also in our society. Everybody can make a mistake. Respect is important. Respect for yourself and respect for others.