When Massimo Busacca was appointed as the Head of the FIFA Refereeing Department in 2011, he had a clear idea for the preparation of elite referees: the deeper the knowledge of the game, the better the results. And as Busacca now looks ahead to the cycle leading to the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018™ and the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, his idea is to take these methods one step further – and to do so in a unified, joint effort for men’s and women’s football.

“Men and women have to work together, because we are convinced that this should be our philosophy. The game is the same, the decisions they take are the same, and thus the preparation for the referees and assistant referees should be, too,” said Busacca. “That is why in all our seminars – starting with two important elite ones in February 2016 – we will present exactly the same information and we’ll organise activities to discuss and analyse situations together; men and women referees”.

The core of Busacca’s philosophy lies in the idea that, much like footballers, referees must prepare themselves for every match from all standpoints - even tactically. “Football is very fast nowadays, but even if you run like Forrest Gump, if you don’t understand the game, you won’t be at the right place at the right time,” he explained.

“Before a game, a coach instructs a player about how the other team lines up, what are the characteristics of the opponents, etc. It should be the same for referees: they should know if a team plays 4-3-3 or 4-3-2-1; if they play on the counter-attack… Before the ball is coming, you should be able to know where it will be, and that has to be repeated and simulated to exhaustion. Referees are not machines and mistakes can occur, but this is how you create uniformity and consistency to minimise them."

As much focus as Busacca puts into knowledge and theory, though, there is no way to ignore the increasing physical demands of refereeing elite football. Although that too comes side-by-side with understanding the game, which was the rationale behind his department’s adaptation of FIFA’s fitness tests for referees.

“It’s not a big change: essentially, we work on reducing the distances and shortening the limits. We need more agility and explosion. In the modern game, the effort is no longer about 200m sprints, but several 10m, 20m or 40m ones. This is crucial. There are so many counter attacks at such speed that when a ball is lost you must be really quick in sprinting towards the other box."

With the game increasingly faster and the scrutiny intensified – particularly in the case of women’s football – Massimo Busacca’s goal is simply to have all fronts covered. “After the Women’s World Cup in Canada, in our last debrief, I told the referees: in this top level, you need to prepare professionally and know what you are doing. It is the only way you can sustain your decisions. If not, people will not trust them.”

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