The “public examinations” of the referees: RFEF’s Talent Programme
During the month of July, the teams that before pandemic suspended competitions in Spain occupied the top positions in Reto Iberdrola, if we talk about female football, and Second B Division, Third Division and lower categories, in the case of male football, have struggled to reach the goal marked in August 2019: being promoted. Months of uncertainty facing the possibility of having to postpone that dream for another year and months in which the sanitary emergency forced to stop football and sport in Spain.
Finally, season could end with certain singularities and with the fields of play flooded of tears as every year: joy tears from the winners, enrage and sad from the losers. The first could not feel the jubilation of their fans celebrating the achievement as well as the second their warmth and support in probably one of the toughest days in their lives.
But not only players, staff and the rest of the components of the clubs put everything on the line in the playoffs that decided if they were good enough to move up another step towards the peak of Spanish football or if they had to come back the following year with renewed hopes. Although in this case they are not the centre of attention, hundreds of referees from every part of Spain have also fought for being promoted at the same time as the teams that they officiate.
At LabHipermedia we have years of experience working in the formation of present and future referees. That is why we want to explain how the process of promotion of the officials works and pay tribute to them compiling the words that, during the last months, those who dream about emulating Marta Huerta de Aza, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, Guadalupe Porras Ayuso or Pau Cebrián Devis have expressed in the media.
RFEF’s Talent Programme
It is easy to understand what teams are promoted at the end of the year in the aforementioned divisions: the top clubs compete in a playoff; the winners climb to the next category. However, in the case of referees is not so simple but, although it changes a bit depending on the division, the requirements to be promoted are similar in all of them.
And, if we talk about Third Division and Reto Iberdrola, it is necessary to explain the Talent Programme created by the Referees’ Technical Committee (CTA) of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF). It covers an entire season and it is divided into different phases (four in the male competition and two in the female) in which thousands of referees will pass different filters depending on aspects like their performance or their physical condition.
In the Third Division, the first phase is delegated in the regional committees, which evaluate and classify their referees until a deadline in which the top of the list advance to the next stage of the programme. In this initial phase, LabHipermedia has worked with federations through two ways: making the scouting of the referees affiliated to Madrid Referees’ Committee (CAFM) and implementing our e-learning platform, CloudLab, in each federation of Spain with the objective of boosting the theoretical-technical knowledge of the officials.
RFEF stipulates the number of referees that each regional committee have to put forward. For example, in Madrid four officials move forward to the Phase II and one of them had to be removed by the regional committee after the last fixtures of the season. However, pandemic has provoked that this year the Phase II has not been celebrated.
Starting at here, the national CTA takes control of the Talent Programme. Phase III is formed by five tests: a Law of the Game exam, a series of fitness tests, a minutes composition exam, an English test and a psychological one. If they are passed, we get to the point in which this post started: the appointment to the Second B Division promotion matches, which will be the final test before deciding the name of the referees that will reach the aforementioned category
In the female competition the process is simplified. Each regional committee selects a referee and an assistant referee in order to access to the Phase I, similar to the III of the Third Division referees. Once they pass the tests, they will be appointed to a match in which their performance will tip the scales towards the promotion or the continuation in Reto Iberdrola.
An atypical training
Pandemic has meant a real challenge to non-professional football, especially if we talk about keeping fit when during a lot of time people could only go out of home for indispensable purposes. Elite athletes often have their own gyms at home, but modest club players have experienced more vicissitudes. And referees are not an exception: although the theoretical study has worked more or less as normal, the physical tune-up has been more complicated.
On this matter Víctor Castellanos Argüeso, referee from the Cantabrian committee who has been promoted to Second B Division after a single season in Third Division, talked to El diario montañés in the de-escalation phase: “We are studying at home and they send us online tests. I train the physical aspect with the material I have, but the aerobic part is more complicated”.
However the promotion of María Planes Terol, referee from the Murcian committee, to Primera Iberdrola is up in the air: she is the first reserve in case that one of the current referees of the category or one that has been recently promoted have a time off sick. Although she is already part of the referees squad of the category as an assistant referee, this fact has not skimped her on giving her best in order to achieve the promotion: she recognised to the Murcia Football Federation during confinement that her key to look for being promoted and progress at the same time with her nursing studies was “the organization”. In the physical aspect, her preparation was based on taking advantage of the available resources to “keep fit”, especially before the Government allows citizens to go out and run; in the theoretical, with the tools provided by her committee: “We continue doing video test and theoretical exams thanks to CloudLab. We also make meetings some days to solve doubts or to see our development”.
This effort is also thoroughly appreciated by the committees. After all, more of their referees officiating in the main Spanish football divisions mean that the time used in their formation has been worth it. The technical chief of female refereeing in Catalonia, Anna Zardaín, talked to Mundo Deportivo about how the Catalonian referees who were members of the programme dealt with the promotion to Primera Iberdrola: “They face the challenge with hope, excitement and full of dedication, having in mind that the tets are very tough. Despite of difficulties created by confinement, they have worked intensely and they are training on a daily basis to reach the best possible conditions”.
Without error margin in the tests
In the RFEF’s Talent Programme retakes has not place. There is not a September saving those who, either because of injuries or other issues, does not arrive to this part of the season in their best physical and mental moment. Reaching their optimal physical fitness is basic to maintain alive the dream of the promotion and to face the exams designed by RFEF: “A main speed test, followed by an endurance one, both for referees and assistant referees”, told to Castilla y León Football Federation Javier Sánchez Sánchez, chief of the physical performance area of the national CTA. But how are the results evaluated? “A scale with minimum and maximum values exists and, obviously, every referee and assistant referee has tried to give their best”.
One of the people evaluated while Javier Sánchez was being interviewed is the assistant referee Estefanía Benito Benito, who has reached her dream of being promoted to Primera Iberdrola and who confessed to be “happy” about having ended the physical test: “The season has been a little bit long. Luckily it has gone well and now we have to wait for the theoretical exams”.
Two referees who were examined in Valencia with the promotion in mind were María Victoria Miralles Almagro, who has ended the programme as the first reserve in order to be promoted as an assistant to Primera Iberdrola, and Francisco José Ortega Herrera, who has been successful and the next year he will be officiating in Second B Division
After finishing the physical tests, the female assistant referee wanted to underline to her Federation the “very high level requirement” that implies the competition with colleagues from every part of Spain, despite pandemic has provoked that the exams had to be made in each region in order to avoid displacements. However, she does not regret about choosing the refereeing path: “Each time you have to train much more, you have to demand yourself much more and in the end you say: ‘Does it worth the risk?’ Evidently, the answer is yes. Otherwise, nowadays I would not here fighting for this”.
The aforementioned Valencian male referee pointed out a positive aspect of the exam in relation to the previous single training: “It is not the same to train alone, as I was doing, than to make a real exam with colleagues. Whether you want to or not, that reference of having a colleague at your side makes easier to reach the goal”. Ortega Herrera considers himself as “a referee that at both speed level and endurance level” has “quite ability to make the tests”; the fact that he has been promoted implies that he knows his physical and his possibilities very well.
The playoffs, the final test
After passing the aforementioned five exams, the referees reached the most awaited moment: refereeing a playoff promotion match. That match decides in 90 or 180 minutes the fate of two clubs… and also the destiny of the main referee and their assistants. Real “public examinations”, as they were defined to his Federation by Las Palmas committee referee Gamaliel Escobar López, who opted without success to the Second B Division promotion.
The Extremaduran (although born in Belgium) committee referee Francisco Hernández Maeso is a veteran in these battles: after 10 years in Second B Division, he did not officiate playoffs matches only in the first one. For him, those matches suppose “the exciting zenith of the effort made in the whole season and an open door to the dream of the promotion”. Eight consecutive years caressing the Second Division until his performance in the match FC Cartagena vs. CD Atlético Baleares and in the entire season allows him to open the doors of the category and achieve that dream related to diario Hoy.
In the same playoffs, although in a different match (CD Castellón SAD vs. UD Logroñés SAD), the Madrid-born assistant referee Mario Martín-Consuegra Díaz officiated. Unlike Hernández Maeso he has not reached his goal, although before raising the flag he recognises to the Royal Madrid Football Federation that refereeing a playoff was quite an achievement: “When I started in seven-a-side football in fields like Ernesto Cotorruelo, I said: “Hopefully, some day I will officiate in a playoff promotion to Second Division”. In Diario Marca he deeply explained the desire that the ball started to roll: “They are playoffs and they will be thrilling matches; I am keen on them. We all put everything on the line because our future will be decided. It is a match in which the referee has to work a lot”.
Pride and gratitude
Only a few days after the playoffs ended, the moment that could be one of the most important in the life of every referee arrives: the call that confirms their promotion. Eliana Fernández González, from the Asturian committee, admitted to Deportes Cope Asturias two days after knowing the announcement that she had not get used to the idea of being a Second Division assistant yet: “I was going out of home. They phone me and the call completely changed my day. I called my mother to share my happiness with the family”. She also recognises that one of the calls which provoked more emotion in her was the one of Judit Romano García, assistant referee, Asturian and present in the Second Division as her: “When the announcement was published, Judit wrote to me. All the advices are well received”.
Three are the promotions in national categories that the referees from the committee of Madrid has achieved: Álvaro Rodríguez Recio to Second B Division (the number 1 in the Talent Programme), Alicia Espinosa Ríos to Primera Iberdrola and David Gálvez Rascón to Second Division. Both men agreed on expressing thanks through the social networks to their committee and its president, the former referee José Luis Lesma López, for the support received during their refereeing career. Without them, they think that they would have not reached their goal. For her part, she preferred to be more generic in her appreciation: “In the end it is the result from a lot of work and effort and I believe that I would have not been able to achieve it without all the people who have been on my side helping me, so I sincerely appreciate it”.
And we travel from Madrid to Murcia, with the same number of promotions as the capital committee. Just as Espinosa Ríos, María Navarro Cruz will officiate the next season in Primera Iberdrola, although in the case of the Murcian it will be as an assistant referee. She has got it in her second chance because the last year she failed but, as she admitted to the Murcian Football Federation website, she did not give up: “I continued, I rose up and I have tried it again. This year we have changed some things and we have achieved the promotion. I talk in the plural because without my teachers, my trainers and my colleagues of the Federation it would have been so difficult. It is an achievement of everyone else in the committee”.
Rafael Sánchez López will accompany Gálvez Rascón and Hernández Maeso as the referees who will make his debut in Second Division in the 2020-2021 season. An objective that the Murcian had never thought when he started to referee: “I have never considered to reach the Second Division. I saw it as something impossible and unattainable but, in the end, it has been an achieved dream”. Cartagena-born Juan Francisco Roca Robles, for his part, ‘blames’ a very close relative for introducing him refereeing at the point of reaching Second B Division. “He saw an advertisement in the newspaper and he mentioned me this ‘hobby’ that has transformed into a passion. My father has been my main support and my help”.
Looking towards the future
Referees who have not succeed will try again next season with renewed energy, always taking into account that the age limitations do not impede them. One of them is the Zamora-born Daniel Piñuel, for whom it was an award to officiate a playoff promotion match in his third year in the Third Division and who confess to La Opinión de Zamora that he will be more ambitious the following year: “This season my goal is to be promoted, I am very happy with the course of the last (competition) but my goal was not being promoted”.
But alike or even more difficult than that is to face the jump to a more demanding category, both physical and media, trying to stay in it (or even linking consecutive promotions, something hard but not impossible to achieve). Eliana Fernández González recognises having thought about the debut moment since she received the call, although she is not dared to choose a field to do it: “The one they appoint me, it will be welcome”.
It is also inevitable to experiment that vertigo facing a position with more responsibility. David Gálvez Rascón, grateful to the national CTA for being selected to officiate in Second Division, will try “to be up to the expectations that they have on me”. And, with the boom of female sport in mind, Alicia Espinosa Ríos looks anxious the next season: “Being part of female football is a pride and I am dying to start”.
Jusk like her, at LabHipermedia we can´t wait for the start of the next season and for providing our technological innovations to the referees of the country. Congratulations to the lucky ones who have climbed another stop in the world of refereeing and try again the next season to those who have not achieved their goal!