UEFA announced some weeks ago that EURO 2020 would be delayed by a year. Perhaps quite understandably there has been little discussion in our community of the potential consequences for refereeing of a competition who's mere happening feels rather abstract right now. This editorial article tries to consider the effect of a delay regarding the selection of match officials for the potentially upcoming EURO, and who we can most and least expect the Roberto Rosetti-chaired Referees Committee to select for the competition.
It is worth saying at the outset that it is entirely conceivable that EURO 2021 will take place at all. This article works on the premise that it will. It goes without saying the competition should only take place if it is safe to do so.
Referees and UEFA EURO 2021 - What Now?
|Rapid rise: Carlos del Cerro Grande|
When talking about which referees would attend EURO 2021, it seems most hepful to start with the cohort of referees who belong clearly to UEFA's top match officials and on a qualitative level - save injury or suchlike - will attend EURO 2021. In my view, these officials are: Anthony Taylor from England; Carlos del Cerro Grande from Spain; Clément Turpin from France; Daniele Orsato from Italy; Danny Makkelie from the Netherlands; Szymon Marciniak from Poland and Ovidiu Alin Haţegan from Romania. One would have noticed that there are quite a few referees missing from this list; the match officials above have been pre-selected for the next FIFA World Cup and it is quite sure that they will continue their careers until next summer.
|An unwilling pawn: Damir Skomina|
For others, EURO 2021 would be their last international competition, for some amongst very many, having not been pre-selected by FIFA for the next World Cup. While some have been more motivationally tested than others, I would still strongly expect the following referees to attend the EURO and probably blow their last whistles there: Antonio Mateu Lahoz from Spain; Damir Skomina from Slovenia and Cüneyt Çakır from Turkey. I believe we can also comfortably add Felix Brych from Germany, who said he would retire at the end of this current season, but also said that it would be a dream for him to finish his career handling a EURO game at the Fußball Arena München. These officials count as some of the most dependable referees UEFA have in their arsenal and Roberto Rosetti knows that the EURO would be worse officiated for their absence.
|A decade ago: Björn Kuipers|
Another man who certainly belongs amongst these names is Björn Kuipers from the Netherlands. The passing of time could prove problematic for him, he would celebrate his forty-eighth birthday in the months leading up to EURO 2021, but it seems it's a question of personal motivation above anything else: KNVB's refereeing coordinator Dick van Egmond has said that his association will re-enter Kuipers into their FIFA List for 2021 if he so wishes, and it's pretty inconceivable that UEFA would stop appointing him. van Egmond has said that Kuipers "wants to wait until September, October to make a decision" about EURO 2021. On a theoretical level anyway, I think we can consider him as being there.
That is the easy part. Those twelve names (who will surely handle the twelve playoff games) aside, it is very tough to predict who will attend the next EURO, or even how many referees will be there. The number eighteen, the number of then-quintets who attended EURO 2016, is far from axiomatic: the Coronavirus pandemic and tournament's pan-European staging aside, we have a new Chairman of the Referees Committee since 2016, and, perhaps more imperatively, Video Assistant Refereeing for the first time.
|Flexible: Artur Soares Dias|
Though not quite amongst those names aforementioned, I think can consider pre-selected World Cup 2022 referee Artur Soares Dias from Portugal's attendance as a given. His season so far was a good one, he showed good performances in quite a wide variety of clashes such as Torino - Wolverhampton Wanderers, Kosovo - Montenegro and convinced in his ability to handle games such as Germany - Netherlands and Real Madrid - Paris Saint-Germain, even if he made a crucial mistake in the former and aroused a lot of attention in the latter. Stylistically his profile is suited to the Rosetti-era, he attended the World Cup 2018 as a VAR too, and in principle he showed to be a top referee every time I watched him this season (including a very challenging FC Porto - SL Benfica game); he will be at the EURO.
|A sense of timing: Benoît Bastien|
Three referees from the biggest nation are fighting interesting battles to join compatriots as referees in the EURO Finals. One man has the satisfaction of knowing that his association pulled that off four years ago, Michael Oliver from England. While he has never fully convinced that he has the charisma to succeed at the top UEFA level, backed by David Elleray for many years and with the FA's lobby behind him, it seems more than likely Oliver will join Anthony Taylor as referee at EURO 2020. It is a bit trickier for Benoît Bastien from France and Felix Zwayer from Germany, especially as UEFA will want to maintain a level of appointment flexibility (Germany, France both belong to Group F and could well play late into the competition). My feeling is that only one of those two will attend; perhaps the underdog, Bastien, might even have the upper hand. Shakhtar Donetsk - Atalanta Bergamo might just have been one capriciousness too far for the German, and Bastien reminded us in Salzburg - Eintracht Frankfurt that his style is very well-suited to the Rosetti-era, despite his poor form in UEFA games since the Italian's chairmanship began until then. Perhaps DFB's lobby and WC pre-selection will be enough for Zwayer (who could potentially attend the competition as VAR-only), but the next performances for these two will be very important.
|Decision-taker: Slavko Vinčić|
Three men were promoted to the UEFA Elite Category in December: Orel Grinfeld from Israel, István Kovács from Romania and Slavko Vinčić from Slovenia. The delay certainly plays in their favour, as until now each of them have only handled one game on UEFA turf as Elite referees. Kovács convinced in a quite tough FC Porto - Bayer Leverkusen game, a good start. It is well known that Romania's refereeing leader Kýros Vassáras is a good lobbyist, but getting Kovács to the EURO seems beyond even him; he is a good referee but needs time to progress. The other two should be in UEFA's serious consideration. Grinfeld's style sits well with Rosetti-ism and he has VAR-experience from his domestic competition, and I believe he showed the ability to handle quite top games, the extra time also improves his chance. Slavko Vinčić showed all the skills to be a top referee and his chances to attend World Cup 2022 to which he assured an impressive pre-selection seem pretty good, but in all probability he will miss the next EURO. Čeferin's active lack of enthusiasm for (read: active blocking of) Slovenian referees, his lack of experience with VAR and a style that is the biggest affront to Rosetti-ism amongst UEFA Elite probably count against him too much, especially the first. Making any bets regarding these three, I would only see Grinfeld with a ticket, though Vinčić (and actually Georgi Kabakov, who remains unmeritocratically in First Category) would be deserving.
|Dark horse: Aljaksej Kul'bakoŭ|
Between Carlos del Cerro Grande and the three referees discussed in the last paragraph, there are two more referees that have been promoted by Rosetti to the Elite Category: Aljaksej Kul'bakoŭ from Belarus and Ivan Kružliak from Slovakia. Best to deal with the Slovakian first - by neither taking appropriate disciplinary sanctions nor presenting sophisticated leadership qualities, he fails to succeed in challenging international games; aptly demonstrated by a very poor performance in the crucial Galatasaray - Club Brugge this season. Despite being pre-selected for the next World Cup, I am really struggling to see the constellation that allows him to attend it. The delay does play in his favour as he sustained an unfortunate injury in late December, returning to domestic play in March. All-in-all: it would be a surprise to see him at the EURO. Aljaksej Kul'bakoŭ, under a special focus until now in his domestic competition, was pushed hard by Rosetti from the start of his chairmanship, and the Belarusian passed the final test last season in Slavia Praha - Sevilla and was a somewhat surprise promotion to Elite. Despite having an actually very low crucial decision (KMI) accuracy, no sophisticated leadership qualities and troubles with VAR, it's clear that Rosetti likes this referee. No surprise either: his strong match-reading skills certainly play to the style of officiating we've seen in the last two years of UEFA matches. Ergo: I have the feeling his mistakes do not really matter to the committee. While it would be a shock for many, I really can imagine Kul'bakoŭ at the next EURO; remember that Rosetti chose to promote Kul'bakoŭ before eg. Vinčić, at the first chance.
|Athlete: Jesús Gil Manzano|
There are two names amongst Elite who we can rule out with some certainty. Deniz Aytekin from Germany will almost certainly be switched down into First Category, replaced by a compatriot, and has no chances to attend the EURO. Besides anything else, the performance principle dictates that Jesús Gil Manzano from Spain should not attend the EURO - he won't - but that thanks to the quality of del Cerro Grande and Mateu Lahoz. Gil Manzano is certainly being readied for EURO 2024, as I analysed previously. RFEF already conceded that there is no chance he will be ready for the next World Cup for which he is pre-selected; this doesn't seem unconnected to the decision to remove the age limit in Spain which now allows del Cerro Grande to be on the pre-selection list too. Participation as a Video Assistant Referee for Gil Manzano in EURO 2020 seems likely enough so as to be certain.
|Trouble at home: Anastásios Sidirópoulos|
We are left, then, with four names who perhaps could be seen as somewhat quaint - their days as top UEFA prospects, are rather behind them. Of them, with near certainty, we can rule out long-time injured Pavel Královec from Czechia, who will probably only remain in Elite for the rest of his career on a de jure level - watching him and now-retired Viktor Kassai in UEFA games this season felt decidedly anachronistic, nothing against the two who have served international football for a long time. The other three all do have chances attend the next EURO, which would constitute a very impressive achievement for them. It has been a good couple of seasons for Anastásios Sidirópoulos from Greece who from the cusp of demotion and not being able to handle top clashes in his nation, convinced in two crucial games: England - Croatia and Ajax Amsterdam - Getafe. It must be said that he was given both games by essentially accident, and didn't display sophisticated decision-making nor leadership skills in either matches, and I don't really see him amongst the EURO referees. The same speech can probably be made for Sergej Karasëv from Russia, pushed for his home World Cup, and presenting - if I may say so - a decidedly unaesthetic style in his games. Both men have surely convinced as solid Elite referees, and can hopefully go on in a good way - but are rather not EURO material this time.
|Staunch Scotsman: William Collum|
Roberto Rosetti is evidently not the biggest cheerleader of William Collum from Scotland, the Italian was surely waiting to switch him for his technically weaker but managerially stronger compatriot Robert Madden at the next category revisions. Perhaps for no Elite referee did the viral constellation form better for than Collum: not only did football's delay probably save him from demotion, he also got to show his skills with a good performance in the İstanbul Başakşehir - FC København game in the last days before everything shutdown. There is no doubt he sports experience either. A relatively low crucial decision accuracy, not being the best manager, lacking VAR experience and assistant referees all aren't really playing in Collum's favour, but in him I do see a referee who could take, say, a hypothetical place eighteen at the next EURO, with Hugh Dallas' lobby behind him. At the same time, it is quite conceivable that he could be demoted too.
A final word, on Video Assistant Referees. It is not worth writing an analysis on predicting the names of the VARs as it is rather abstract and essentially impossible, though a look into the appointments so far in the Knockout Stages of the UEFA Club Competitions should gave a good guide, but it is worth speculating on the appointments procedure. Probably UEFA will follow what FIFA did at the last World Cup and have a small pool of VARs who are appointed to games with some regular teams, eg. Kuipers (Makkelie) and so on. The alternative, and likely a look to the future, would be to select quintets including two VAR officials, for the competition. However, the potential to lose uniformity in interpretations of "clear and obvious" might be enough to scare off the idea for now. But it is an interesting area of development to watch in years to come.
I hope you found this editorial interesting - who would you select being in Roberto Rosetti's shoes for EURO 2021? Let us know in the comments.