Legendary referees: Pierluigi Collina

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1999. The scoreboard marks the 90th minute at the Camp Nou. The assistant picks up the number three on the light. Three minutes is the time that Bayern München has left to fly with the champions to Germany. Three minutes left for the red devils, with the famous Sir Alex Ferguson in the bench, to come back the 1-0 against. A suspenseful plot sprinkles the Camp Nou. Corner for Manchester. United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel goes up to shoot. David Beckham’s right hand takes the corner. Several rebounds inside the area leave a dead ball in the small area. Teddy Sheringham takes advantage of it and sends the ball to the back of the net. 1-1 and the characteristic British «yes» floods the stands. A minute later, another corner kick from Beckham ends with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scoring, after Sheringham’s extension.

In just three minutes, Manchester United came back the game to win the European Cup. In just three minutes, the ‘Red Devils’ have earned their place in the history of sport. The wonderful intrinsic dichotomy of the football world was back on the scene. Solskjaer is the great protagonist of that final, but not the only one. After the second English goal, the referee of the match, the legendary Pierluigi Collina, approaches to try to get the players of the German team off the ground. Image which, in the end, is one of the most remembered about Collina. The Italian referee, with imposing blue eyes, continued to establish himself as one of the best referees of the moment.

Pierluigi Collina was born in Bologna in 1960. He was graduated in the University of Bologna in Economics. Soon, he became interested in football. A fervent admirer of Joseph Wilson, Collina served as a center-back in his short career in amateur football. The Italian-British origin libero was also the blame for Collina becoming a Lazio fan.

In 1977 life was about to change for Collina. In that year, the Italian decided to take a refereeing course. Three years later, he was refereeing regional category matches. Due to his incorporation into the military service, he had to temporarily leave his career as a referee.

After performing military service, and at only 24 years old, Pierluigi suffered alopecia areata. A disease that made him bald in no time, which gave him a more imposing personality, as he himself has recognized several times throughout his career: «The players respect me more because of my appearance».

After three seasons refereeing in the third division, his step to the elite took place in 1991, year in which he began to officiate Serie A matches. 1991 was an atypical year with a bittersweet flavor for the Italian league. Napoli’s star and best player of the moment, Diego Armando Maradona, was banned from the world of football for 14 months after testing positive for cocaine in an anti-doping control. An exit from Italian football that marked Collina, as he recounted in a documentary on Sky Sports Italia: «Perhaps, my only frustration, in the good sense of the word, has been that of not calling any game where Maradona acted».

THE JUMP TO INTERNATIONAL MATCHES

Collina’s great leap to the international elite came in 1996, when he made his debut as a FIFA referee at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Four games, including the very final between Nigeria and Argentina. The «Green Eagles» won the final by 3 to 2, achieving one of the most important feats in the history of African football: Olympic gold.

The final was surrounded by controversy, and complaints from the Argentine side about the referee’s performance in the final 3 to 2 of Amunike. The goal came after a heeled foul in favor of Nigeria. After the center, the Argentine players threw the line and left the area to knock the Nigerian players out of play. Neither the referee nor his assistant whistled offside and Amunike scored freely within the «small area».

KOREA AND JAPAN: THE ZENITH OF HIS CAREER

The big moment for Collina came six years after the Atlanta Olympics. The Bolognese was chosen to represent the Italian referees in the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan. In a World Cup marked by referee scandals, Pierluigi had an impeccable performance. Fact that earned him to referee the World Cup final, which matched Brazil and Germany. The match ended with a 2 to 0 in favor of the Cariocas, and with only two yellow cards shown by Collina. At the end of the match, and in the traditional medal ceremony, one of the most exciting moments in Pierluigi’s career was experienced. The whole stadium cheered him, producing a rarely seen referee-fan symbiosis.

PES 03 COVER

Such was the popularity of Bolognese at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the century that it became the cover of the famous soccer video game Pro Evolution Soccer 03. Something Kafkaesque and daring on the cover of one of the best soccer video games.

After the cover of Collina, a cast of stars followed one after another on the cover: Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi, etc. But since then, no referee has caught the attention of the acclaimed game. Without a doubt, a cover for the story.

BEST REFEREE DURING SIX YEARS

The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) designated Pierluigi Collina for six years in a row, between 1998 and 2003, as the best football referee in the world. He has had the referee who has obtained this recognition the most times. An award that has been given, since 1987, to the best referee of the season.

The award that we can consider as the referees’ Golden Ball has not the same tradition as the original, although distinguished names of this collective has received the prize.The first referee to win this recognition was the Brazilian Romualdo Arppi Filho, who is known for having refereed the final of the World Cup in Mexico 86 between Argentina and West Germany. Match that consecrated Maradona as the best player in the world, after agonizingly defeating the Bavarians 3-2. The last referee to obtain this award was the Slovenian Damir Skomina, in 2019.

RETIREMENT BOUND TO REFEREEING

In 2005, after receiving special permission to continue officiating despite being 45 years old – the age considered as the limit in this world, as stated in Article 173 of the General Regulations -, he ended up “hanging the whistle” after an advertising conflict with Opel and the Italian Football Federation.

In 2010, he was elected as the Chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee. Position that he held until 2018, when he resigned for personal reasons. In the World Cup in Russia, where the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system was used for the first time, he was one of the great defenders of this technology, ensuring that the VAR was only wrong in 0.7% of the decisions.

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