Archundia: Players are most important

Benito Archundia is something of a crowd-stopper on the streets of Mexico. People take one look at him and burst into smiles of recognition. They often stop right where they are and ask if they can be photographed with him. Yet this is not a famous player, a former El Tri star or multiple trophy winner with a Mexican club. Archundia has found a place in peoples' hearts in a very different way, by becoming the most famous referee in Mexico. Indeed, he rates as one of the best match officials in the world, with a clutch of records to his name.

Back in 2006, Archundia became the first ever referee to take charge of five matches at a single FIFA World Cup™. At the 2010 finals in South Africa, the 45-year-old was assigned to three more matches, thereby equalling the record of eight games at the finals shared by Joel Quiniou and Jorge Larrionda. He has twice controlled the final of the FIFA Club World Cup, and also officiated at the 1996 and 2004 Olympic Football Tournaments, and the 2001 and 2009 FIFA Confederations Cups.

During the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011 in his home country, Archundia spoke exclusively to in Queretaro, one of the venues for the tournament, where the match official discussed his career, his most memorable moments, and his goals for the future.

Benito Archundia, here we are at FIFA hotel in Queretaro. What are your duties here at the FIFA U-17 World Cup?FIFA invited me to the tournament as a referee observer, i.e. to help and support the referees. It's a good experience for me, and another step in my career, as I'm currently preparing to become an instructor responsible for training young referees. This World Cup is a good chance for Mexico to show visitors from all over the world our beautiful country. This is, after all, my home.

What are your plans for the future?I have a few training courses, before setting off for the U–20 World Cup in Colombia. After that, my association is sending me to Europe for two months, to England, Spain, Italy and Germany to be precise, to observe how referees are trained there. I'll come back to Mexico and see if I can put what I've learned into practice.

Has any particular match during your career stuck in the memory?I have lots of memories, but what people seem to recall most of all is the 2006 World Cup semi-final between Germany and Italy. It was a really big match, and I have one very special personal memory. Italy had just scored their second, I'd signalled a goal, and Marco Materazzi ran over and embraced me. At that moment, I thought to myself: ‘What's going on here? I'm the ref, not a player’. Then I relaxed, as I thought no-one would be looking, because they'd all be focused on the Italian celebrations. However, the next day's papers were full of photos of that moment. I asked Materazzi about it later, and he said I'd done very well that night, and why shouldn't you congratulate the referee? That's a really nice memory for me personally.

How would you describe your approach to controlling a match?I played before becoming a referee, so I do understand when players get upset or overjoyed. My guiding principle was always that the players are more important than the referee. That's how I understood my role on the field of play. I favoured a good relationship with the players, and always tried to show understanding in certain situations, although I never hesitated to pull out the red card when necessary. However, you can do a great deal beforehand to prevent matters reaching that stage. If you show respect to the players, they'll show respect to you.

Why did you become a ref, and why didn't you pursue a playing career?I was certainly a good player and they gave me the number 10. I played throughout my time at school and university, and I was always the captain. But when I did referee, people told me I could be a good player, but also a very good ref. So I made my mind up at the age of 16, and it's turned out a very good decision.

You've refereed a record eight FIFA World Cup matches. Are you proud of that?Of course, although I wasn't really aware of it at the time. The first time, my preparations were geared at the World Cup, and not at setting records. I was hoping to take charge of one or two matches, but when they announced the line-up for the semi-finals, I was asked how come I’d been given five games. So I said maybe it was because I was doing well. That's when I realised it must be a record, and I found it unbelievable.

How would you describe the relationship between the fans and the referees in your home country?The fans support their team during a match, and voice their displeasure with the referee's decisions. That's how it is all over the world, but afterwards, the fans recognise a good performance by the ref. I remember a game in Torreon ten years ago, when a fan gave me a volley of abuse while I was on my way to the referee's room after the match. An hour later, as I was leaving the stadium, I saw the same fan waiting for me with his entire family. He came up and said to me: ‘I respect you and you’re a great referee. We're really happy with you. Could you sign my shirt and pose for a photo with me?’ That was the moment when I really understood. You protest during the match, but express satisfaction with the ref afterwards.

What's the appeal of refereeing?I love football. Mind you, lots of my friends say they love football, but they always say no when I ask them if they'd like to become referees. But I became a ref because of my love for football.