Reading the appointment of Daniele Orsato for Real Madrid - Manchester City was essentially cursory. Reading the appointment of Jesús Gil Manzano for Olympique Lyonnais - Juventus, I checked twice to see if I were mis-reading it! Congratulations to both on great appointments, first of all.
Those two names beside each other for Wednesday's games give us a nice chance for reflection. What can we read into Gil Manzano's appointment, how Orsato's story that is four years older will have a happy ending, and the bigger picture - how much is the power of big associations lobby in Nyon a threat to meritocracy in UEFA refereeing?
|Daniele Orsato during the PSV Eindhoven - Atlético de Madrid game|
Italian's appointment in 2016 was viewed as surprising or unexpected
In 2016, I distinctly remember my surprise at Daniele Orsato being appointed for the first leg of the PSV Eindhoven - Atlético Madrid Champions League Round of Sixteen game. After having débuted in Champions League in 2012, Orsato's progress internationally had not matched his domestic performances. His group stage in the season 2015-16 was: Partizan Belgrade - AZ Alkmaar (EL), Gent - Valencia, Real Madrid - Malmö. Said with all the respect, that would be reminiscent of a referee belonging to UEFA First Category - or in any case, not pre-empting an appointment to a Champions League Knockout game.
With the passing of time it is easy to forget the pretext of some years ago. In 2016, Orsato was a very clear number three from Italy: Nicola Rizzoli and Gianluca Rocchi were ahead of him. The need to push another name from Italy was not really evident on the surface. Indeed, as I write now, there are two referees from Spain who belong to the highest echelon of European refereeing: Antonio Mateu Lahoz and Carlos del Cerro Grande. It would be agreeable that Jesús Gil Manzano is behind those two names by some distance - no disgrace, at all, I would add.
|Jesús Gil Manzano during the Schalke - Porto game last season|
Spaniard was promoted to the UEFA Elite Category in 2018
As in 2016, this UEFA Knockout Stage directly precedes a EURO. This year the Elite referees have even more to fight for - whereas the list of EURO 2016 referees was confirmed before Christmas of the year previous, EURO 2020's referees will likely be confirmed in late March after the twelve playoff matches have been completed. All appointments, all performances are viewed - quite naturally and logically - through the prism of the upcoming EURO. It is against this background that it is hard to understand Gil Manzano's appointment to Lyon - Juventus.
Perhaps a lack back allows us some more clarity. Daniele Orsato will, almost definitely, attend UEFA EURO 2020. It goes without saying, even - that is fully deserved for the Italian. He will join the competition as the clear number one referee from Italy, indeed, the only Elite referee from his country; Rizzoli and, as of this winter, Gianluca Rocchi out from international refereeing due to their age. In other words - Orsato was four years ago, by UEFA's own (correct) estimation, the only Italian who had chances to attend EURO 2020. Even, he benefited from the Summer 2015 de facto redefinition of the UEFA Elite Category as pointed out by this (simply brilliant) The Third Team article from that summer.
|Clément Turpin during the Austria - Hungary game at EURO 2016|
Frenchman was promoted to the UEFA Elite Category the previous summer
It is against that background, that Gil Manzano's appointment does make sense. It is not about the upcoming tournament, but about EURO 2024 - or perhaps more imperatively, World Cup 2022. Unless RFEF changes its rules, both Mateu Lahoz and del Cerro Grande will be out from those two competitions. It would be naïve to see that, and Gil Manzano's appointment to Lyon - Juventus, as unrelated.
And, let's say it openly, calling the appointment "surprising" is really only a euphemism - "undeserved" is more accurate. This appointment has three major negatives as far as I can see:
|Luis Medina Cantalejo during the 2009 UEFA Cup Final|
His compatriot Manuel Mejuto González attended EURO 2008
The close battle between them to attend that EURO was won by Mejuto
Firstly, for Jesús Gil Manzano himself. UEFA might have been lucky in recent times, but pushing a referee too much could scar them irreversibly, and end their chances of developing at a more natural rate in the future. Also, it is surely not satisfying on a personal level knowing you are handling a game that you are appointed for that not only do you not feel ready for, you know that those appointed you are not really convinced that you are ready.
Secondly, for other UEFA Elite referees. There are other referees who would have merited an appointment to this game; especially those who are ostensibly on the cusp of EURO, can be disappointed when they see Gil Manzano on the television on Wednesday evening. On a motivational level, for all FIFA-listed European referees who do not have a bigger lobby in Nyon, the message reads quite clear: it does not really matter how well you perform, you are always in danger of being superseded by referee from a bigger nation, regardless of their performances.
Finally, for the quality of the officiating itself. It is unfair on Olympique Lyonnais and Juventus that their match is used in order to boost the palmarés of a given referee, so it will benefit the arguments of his association regarding his attendance of a future major international competition. UEFA's goal should be to ensure the best possible officiating in every match under their auspices.
It is pretty irritating that, ostensibly, UEFA allows the lobby of a big association to become a higher priority than those factors that I just outlined.
|Tom Harald Hagen during the Newcastle United - Metalist Kharkiv game|
Former Elite Development referee resigned from FIFA List in 2015
We should be left in little doubt - big associations lobby in Nyon in still very much prevalent. One could have hoped that the trimming down of the Referees Committee taking place under Roberto Rosetti would have removed such nepotism - apparently, it still thrives.
On a more specific level, Daniele Orsato's progress shows that sometimes the ends do justify the means, and Orsato will referee Real Madrid - Manchester City on Wednesday as one of the top referees in Europe (in contrast to the last time he refereed at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, in 2015). I do not say that it is impossible for Jesús Gil Manzano will develop in the same way, though I wonder how likely that is.
Regardless, the purpose of this appointment, and others in the past, should be clear.
A face-saving exercise by big associations who use their lobby in UEFA as an affront to meritocracy and a substitute for a generational gap in mentoring and developing referees, detrimental not only to the referee involved but other Elite referees, and officiating itself on a qualitative level.
That being said, as a blog we would like to sincerely wish Jesús Gil Manzano, Daniele Orsato and all referees involved in UEFA games, all the best for their upcoming games!