On the 11th anniversary of its existence, the "School of Referees" (www.ScoalaDeArbitri.ro) conducted an interview - event, with the President of the CCA, Kyros Vassaras (55 years old), in which he talks about his career as a referee. An impressive one, with two Champions League semifinals, an Olympic Games final, participation in final tournaments (EURO, World Cup) and many other beautiful moments. But also some less pleasant...
Wednesday, 2 June 2021
Interview with Kyros Vassaras about his refereeing career: "It was a long and wonderful journey!"
Mr. Vassaras, 12 years have passed since you gave up your career as a referee. Do you miss that period?
Of course, I do. It was a long and wonderful journey! Thanks God, I have a lot of nice memories.
Do you remember how you became a football referee?
My father was a football player and then later in his life also a FIFA referee, so he was the one who inspired me to do it. I was the one who asked him, how I can become a referee. In 1984, I made the application to enter the refereeing school and I started the lessons in Thessaloniki Referees Association where I had my first matches in 1985. My father said to me” Kyros, is your decision and I appreciate that, although you know very well the difficulties to be a referee. I will follow and watch your first two seasons. If I find out that you are not managing well, I will ask you to stop. Ok?’’. “ I said OK deal” . Some months later, I remembered he was very happy when he received the invitation to take part as a candidate to the preparatory seminar for the World Cup 1986 in Mexico. Few weeks later, due to the earthquake in Mexico, FIFA, following the request of the Mexican government and the Football Association proceed in a plan of reducing costs and they decided to reduce the number of the final list of the match officials. As a result, he was the one of the three European referees among others from the rest of the world, who missed that great opportunity. You may understand his disappointment. He told me that unfortunately due to the age limits, he wouldn't get the opportunity four years later. He explained me that he if he had stopped earlier his experience as football player, being involved in refereeing some years before, he could have managed to live this great experience. Then I told him: “I’m going to do this. I will try to make you proud and happy and I will fight for it! “ . Frankly speaking, when I said that, I couldn’t imagine that I would have made it so soon. So then he said “Look , I promised you to watch your first steps and I really feel that you can continue. It will be a honour for me my son to become one day an international referee, but is up to you to reach this level and to go further than me. I will be your mentor and coach with all my heart”.
Why did you give up football for refereeing?
My first experience of sport was the swimming and I started very young. I had my first sport ID as a swimmer in “Iraklis”(Hercules) team. I always liked football. I was since baby at the stands with my mother when my father played football as a player. At the young age until 17, I also played football in “Olympiada” in local amateur level of Makedonia AJF championship. Not so bad, but not so good to follow a player’s career. However, at that time it was not possible to be player and referee at the same time, which I believe it was wrong. I wanted to be a referee and follow the path of my father’s career.
How did you react as a player when you were disadvantaged by a referee?
I tried always to not disagree or talk too much with the referees. Few times I asked the reason of a decision in a very polite way but generally I respected their opinions, and I was comfortable more, when they were close to the incidents and they were confident on these, no matter if were wrong or correct.
Can you tell us a funny story from the games you officiated?
I remember during a friendly match England vs Spain in Birmingham, Aston Vila stadium, my assistant referee, and the 4th official, shouted in the communication: ’’Kyros, stop, stop the match’’ but I was on the other half of the field and focus to a promising attack. I could not understand why I must stop, and I continued to run as well as the players in front of me. The ball went finally out, but at the same time 4 security persons were trying to catch with a blanket a naked young lady running to give a hug to Beckham. All on the field we were watching and laughing, how fast was the lady and the whole operation until the security persons covered her with a blanket and guided her outside of the field.
And a less pleasant event?
I will tell you about my biggest disappointment as a referee. After many successful seasons, I have been invited and participated in FIFA seminar with all World Cup 2006 candidates in Frankfurt. I passed successfully all the tests, (Laws of the Game & video tests, medical and fitness tests). One week later, I was selected by FIFA Refereeing Committee, among the 10 European referees to participate in World Cup 2006 in Germany. There was only one condition left. The 2 out of 3 Greek assistant referees to pass only the fitness test. I would never imagine that two of them failed in sprints in such a way. The sprint limit was 6’’ seconds and they both did 6’’.01’ . So, for one split of seconds and not because of me, I lost my 2nd World Cup. I lost the earth under my feet when my assistant referee Bozatzidis who passed successfully called me after the test and crying on the phone, told me what happened. Although there was time enough to give the chance to another Greek assistant referee, to run, finally the decision had been made. I lost the World Cup. One year later, November 2007, I also lost my father who passed away after 5 months fight with cancer. That was the strongest shock in my life.
What is the most beautiful memory of your refereeing career?
I am incredibly pleased with my long journey in refereeing and I have a lot of beautiful memories. My first, was when I have been selected to the World Cup U-17 in New Zealand, in 1999, where also I had officiated the final between BRAZIL and AUSTRALIA. A final tournament with a lot of young players who became stars of football soon later (Leonardo, Adriano, Kaka, Alex (BRA), Ishmael Addo (GHA), Àlvaro Meneses (URU), Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley (USA), Pepe Reina (ESP).
Then my first participation in World Cup 2002 in Japan/South Korea (first time ever appearance for a Greek as a main referee. My dream and the promise to my father came true!
Moreover, I cannot forget my participation in EURO 2008 first time ever, as a Greek trio. A very emotional - enthusiastic period with an excellent team spirit and a very good performance with my assistants till the end of the competition.
Last but not least, the final of the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 - Argentina vs Paraguay. To be a part of this top worldwide sport event is amazing.
You had an impressive career that many referees would dream of. Do you have any regret?
No. I never regret anything that made me smile even once. I forgive very quickly, but I like to create and to discover. I do not stay to the past; I try to learn from it.
You retired from the activity, although you could continue for another 2 years. Why did you make this decision? Were there other times, over time, when you wanted to give up refereeing?
I start firstly, from your last question. I never in my live thought to give up from something that I start, and I love. I decided to quit, and I explain you why. It was one more difficult and not a lucky moment in my life. Everything happened in few seconds. I was walking on the street when I saw two medical people trying to get a person who was going to fall from their stretcher, while they were trying to put him inside the ambulance. I went immediately to help them, I got the patient and pulled him back on the stretcher. That’s it. I felt something in my back. Few seconds later my back was blocked, and I was leaning my body in front. I had to postpone my training activity and I started my rehabilitation with physiotherapies etc.. Until that moment, my refereeing calendar was busy with UEFA Champions league’s games, domestic matches, local matches also in other National Associations, courses for FIFA World Cup 2009 and FIFA matches and final tournaments. Two days after the incident, I went to a special hospital and made an X-ray. I received the results and the consultation of the doctor. My doctor said to me:” Kyros, is not possible for you, and according to what we see in your spine, continuing to have such a busy program with high intensity activities, will be very risky. I must tell you that due to your good strengthening in your back muscles, you did not realise that this problem was already there. After this incident on the street, you moved the bone to a bad position. You may run only in soft surfaces from now on, but if you want to continue your career’s schedule for sure we must then proceed in a surgery and a long enough period of rehabilitation”. I said to myself, let’s try at least to run a fitness test. I cancelled and I refused all the invitations from other countries. I was preparing myself only running on a grass, light accelerations until to go for UEFAs fitness test. On my last training, the day before to travel abroad I was on the track field and next to me was one great athletic track sprinter looking in my trials to the sprint technique to gain a good result. When we discuss out my problem, he said to me that I take a risk. In one of my last sprints, I felt a small complain. Too late, I said I’m going to try. I travelled for the UEFA fitness test. I was feeling so good in warm- up. I make some shorter trials no problem, I make a dynamic one no problem again. Unfortunately, in the 3rd sprint, for split of seconds my leg is blocked, I lose time and arrive late a bit. I was afraid for a worst result if I would try again. That’s it. I said it was a good try, but I have to quit. I was smiling in the way back to hotel in the bus. I said to Hugh Dallas and Yvan Cornu: “ Guys thank you very much. From now on I am available to watch matches from the tribune! “ . They didn’t believe me. I never said in public or to UEFA what happened to me and how much I suffered and how much I tried. But you know, I like to anticipate in challenges, no matter if I lose or win. The goal is to be there, on the field and to do your best to succeed. I considered that I am out my target to be able to participate in the World Cup 2009, to have an UEFA final. All these targets need a specific high-profile training and I could not make it even with an operation in advance but also with an inactive long period. Yes, I could run again I could officiate domestic matches 100%, fewer international matches than before. So, what. Which is the point to stay as a FIFA referee after 4 months recovery let’s say, with some matches in a year just to keep a place out from the younger ones. So, I decided to quit. I do not regret for it. In a noticeably short period of time, I have been asked to take the role of the Refereeing Development Manager in Hellenic Football Federation, designing the whole structure. Later, I had the great privilege to join the UEFA Referee’s Committee and I am very happy that I still support and provide my services as Senior CORE course leader and a member of The UEFA Refereeing Development Panel.
What are the most important players you have officiated in a match?
Wow! There are many! I should make a squad, I think. Buffon, Maldini, Iero, Rivaldo, Beckham, Ronaldinho, Inzaghi, Kaka, Giggs, Figo, Zidane, Eto, Deco, Ronaldo. I was lucky to be in the elite UEFA category for 9 years, with so many important matches. If I try to remember, for sure will come more in my mind.
What do you consider to be the most important game of your career? And the most beautiful stadium where you officiated?
One of the best in quality, with 5 goals and fast as game, was my 2nd of my Champions League semi-finals, between Manchester United vs Milan in 2007 (3-2).
I remember also an especially important game in all aspects between SERBIA and BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA (1-0) for the WC 2006 qualification in front of almost 100 thousand people in Belgrade ‘’Maracanã’’, after the catastrophic war in ex- Yugoslavia! You cannot imagine how great I felt after the end of the match. The players were ready to fight from the entrance to the field of play even at that long tunnel, a high tension on the tribune and after my final whistle, both players left the field hugging each other. Amazing! FIFA executive committee members expressed their sincere appreciation after that match. I believe that match was also the ‘’ticket’’ to be selected for a 2nd World Cup in my career, that in Germany 2006.
I liked very much Wembley stadium and Liverpool’s and Barcelona enthusiastic atmosphere. But I have been incredibly lucky when I had the opportunity to feel the football passion of Latin America being as a referee observer in matches in Montevideo (Uruguay), which I have to say that belongs to one of the most historical football monuments and in National stadium of Lima (Peru). Spectacular and enthusiastic audience of thousands of people.
Did you have a football referee as a model?
My role model was my father. He was my mentor and coach of course. I was trying to follow many top referees in all my career. I was keeping always the good and positive skills of each one. I tried to adapt for example how some referees used their personalities and the players’ management by different approaches. I was keeping in mind and studied on the ones which lead in good solutions on the field.
How was the refereeing in your time and how is it today?
In my time a huge difference in comparison with the older times, but not so much with the recent status. I believe that I belonged in a generation of referees which tested everything. First, in terms of fitness. I ran all the types of fitness test (short distance sprints, test Cooper, Yo-Yo test, dynamic Yo-Yo, FIFA intervals). So, we have been experimented let’s say, in order to give the final feedback for the correct implementation of today limits and tests connected to the actual needs in a game. In terms of Laws of the game? What can I remember? DOGSO / SPA definitions, red cards for tackle from behind or aside, indirect free kicks for back pass and delaying the restart of the match, offside interpretation of not interfering with an opponent, golden goal, etc....
Can you make a top of the referees over time? What about the referees of your generation?
I would like to say that I am incredibly pleased that I had the opportunity to cooperate and to enjoy amazing moments on the field and out of it with the top referees of the world. They were not only my colleagues, they were and still are, very good friends: Colina, Dallas, Frisk, Merk, Urs Meyer, Rossetti, Busacca, Larionda , Ruiz, Simon. I can say that I was present in two refereeing generations. I have also admired the way of older than me referees officiating matches such Marc Batta, Angioline, Ponet, Krug, David Eleray. For sure I forget some, from all time refereeing at this moment. People regularly remember always quickly, the attacking players because of scoring goals in particular moments and major competitions for their country or for their favourite teams. To remember my favourite top referees, it is like you try to remember all the top defending players. They are both the invisible heroes who keep the balance of a match. These are people with a lot of good skills of management and leadership. I am sorry, if I forget some of them after 11 years of an international career in 25 years totally as a referee on the field of play.
What kind of referee were you? Did you officiate in the spirit of the game or in the letter of the laws?
In the beginning of my career as an amateur referee, I was strict enough and strong with the cautions, applying the letter. At my second year in refereeing, I had the record of red cards in the local competition for two-three years. By the time, I realised how important is to communicate more with the players, how to read their skills, their soul I can say also. The benefits of making players understand your decision by a single expression and less words were huge during my career. I remember in many games especially at the last 6 years, how the players respected my decisions. How they accepted a decision even they had doubts and let’s say honestly, even I was wrong sometimes! The players want to feel the referee to be always there, in every challenge, in every infringement, working proactively and protect their safety and respect the football image. Coaches and players also read the referee before the match and I knew what to do from the beginning, showing a self-confidence, destroying their wishes to influence any of my decisions.
I never forgave cheating (simulation, pretending injuries, deliberate delaying of the game). I want to see the play to flow with more football, with a willing of the advantage rule when is necessary, than wasting time tactics and fouls close to the touch line for minor contacts. Pfff, I hate that! However, I worked a lot my self-criticism. I watched many games of the teams before officiating them. I was playing the “tomorrow” match in my mind relaxing on my bed during my sleep at night. Regarding the letter of the LOTG, I can say that few times I used the spirit which today is the letter. I am very happy with the latest changes by IFAB. Here I must add my appreciation and thanks to another “workaholic” person in refereeing, Mr. David Eleray.
How would you describe referee Vassaras in 3 words?
* Passionate in football refereeing
* Team-building worker
* Fair spirited
You have certainly made mistakes as a referee. Can you tell us which was the most important and how you managed to get over it?
Of course, I made, and I never forget to evaluate and use them as an example to the young referees. It was a mistake at that last minute of the additional time in UCL match Deportivo La Coruna vs Manchester United. Still remember when the refereeing legend Paolo Bergamo, came in the dressing room after the match and said to me, that he was so much satisfied with my performance in all ninety (90) plus minutes as much disappointed with only one second at the end. “Why you did not stay to your first impression. I saw on your expression that you were going to give a correct red card”, “why you tried to seek for a confirmation from your colleagues”. He was absolutely right. One minute before the end, Tristan from Deportivo made a strong contact ‘’foot to foot’’ from aside, helped by the very wet surface from a continuous rain during the whole match, at the moment when David Beckham kicked with a force the ball to the other half where everyone else due to the last attack except Man. United goalkeeper, were there. I whistled and I run immediately, to the place of FK, ready for a red card. At the same time I used the communication system, and shouting actually to the 4th official and the assistant on that touch line: “Red card guys, red, red “. Oh my God no confirmation, no reply, not even a word! Then keeping closer to the incident, the time of buying information was limiting. And I asked first the 4th and then the assistant. “Red is fine, yes? “. The colour of the card started to change from orange to yellow in my mind. One of them said: “I believe yellow is enough” and the other confirmed. I made a mistake. Hopefully, with a not serious injury to the player.
Which is more important: theoretical, physical, or psychological training? How long did you give them weekly?
Details make the difference. You need to try to be good to all. Refereeing as I say always to my referees and in UEFA CORE courses is : Learn, work and enjoy. In order to enjoy you must be always ready with a clear mind before to officiate a game. Whenever I received an appointment, I was fully focus to the match preparation, putting aside any job issues or family obligations or social events. I had to follow a way of life adopted to my refereeing career. I followed specific training programs based on four times a week session on the field of play. I was trained as a professional player but many times alone. I also remember that before major final tournaments I was travelling once per month from Athens to Thessaloniki (500 km) to train together with my assistants, for three to four days. Four times per year, I made all the necessary blood and urine tests to check my status and to follow my nutritionist advices with diet and vitamins and minerals consumption. It is true that I organised a dedicated time for study to the LOTG only before a theoretical test was announced. But for me more useful, was when I discussed with my colleagues, possible incidents that can be happened based on the post-match evaluation or when I was watching other games. Always I tried to find the solution and my correct reaction if that happened to one of my upcoming matches. I was very focus how to communicate fast and with even ‘’codes’’ with my assistants. We had our communication protocol. So, I studied every facial expression of them, every discrete signal which could help me to recognise the nature of an infringement or not. Eye contact between my colleagues was a must, no matter of any other electronic communication system. By the time in my career, I was the doctor, the physiotherapist, the psychologist, the trainer of myself, getting experience from all my life in sports. I learned and I did my self the taping of my ankles, the warmup massage etc.
What is the main quality of a football referee and what other qualities must he have to become a top referee?
It is important to love and to like football and its unique sport spirit to become a referee. To like to be a part of the game ensuring that the players will respect the safety of the opponent and to respect the football image by respecting also the referees’ decisions.
A top referee must be a top manager with strong personality. To give and gain respect from all the participants on the field and out of it. To be aware and alert not only during a game but much before and after as well. To be prepared in all aspects. To reach the top is one thing, to stay in top is the most difficult and important.
What role has the refereeing played in your life?
Refereeing gave me the opportunity to stay as an athlete and to live better, away from any other challenges. It strengthened my personality, my way of reaching targets, the benefit of thinking calmly and to decide under pressure. I have been benefited from traveling all over the world, to meet special people, to make friends in every country and continent. Refereeing taught me, how to manage a victory, a loss, to stay in front of public, or in an audience, to share opinions and to become a professional sport consultant and instructor. Refereeing changed my life.
What role does the family play in the life of a football referee?
It plays a particularly important role. When you become a referee, you need first to sacrifice many times your personal or family time. You miss the weekends and time to offer to your beloved persons. I was lucky enough so far, having next to me my beloved persons in family from the beginning of my career. I tried always to fill up the missed time with them. You need a support and to be happy to enjoy every nice moment.
Why would you guide young people to this activity and what advice would you give to those at the beginning?
At the beginning I would like to know that they want to be referees because they like football and not for any other reasons. I will encourage them to be a part of football as athletes, to start the journey to live the incredible moments of the sport and who knows they may be lucky enough to make it worldwide. I remember after my participation in World Cup 2002, a lot of young people made an application to be referees in my town. The young referees need to read all different position players’ skills. Defenders, middle field, attackers, goalkeepers. They must understand the football spirit and read well the LOTG. It is their job to know the rules better than anyone in this sport. To get a position which allows you to gain the best angle of view to the incidents on the field of play, needs time and a lot of work. There are people that they think that referees can be or must be everywhere like the video cameras. It is not possible! They must be good managers, to know how to keep limits in their altitude especially towards the players. To use their personality and their natural authority.
What do you like?
Well, I like to play and to work in football and generally in sports. I like to travel and to enjoy nice moments with my beloved persons and my friends. I like the summer more than any other season and I prefer more to visit the seaside than the mountains. I like to organize, to create, to try and to share experiences. I like to assist, to give, to advice without expecting even a ‘’thank you’’, because I feel happy to give. I really enjoy when that was proved as a successful one.
What don't you like?
Generally, I do not like people who are nervous, and they do not say ‘’thank you’’ or ‘’sorry’’. I do not like people who want to gain fame, without doing anything but only to appear in a success. People who are thinking always negatively and those who do not double-check before accusing others. I do not like to fail, to lose but when I can not get a target, I never give up and I look forward, because I accept that life has not only nice moments.
If you want, tell us other things about you, about your career ...
When I started this beautiful journey in refereeing, apart from my quite rich international career, I never thought that this will become my main profession. Of course, I had to risk, to change or to modify, to sacrifice other possible good job offers, but I never regret. I never thought that I will be called to create a successful international plan for referees outside of my country. But everything is about the good communication, support and relations. I am very happy to work with the Romanian Football Federation and I feel great that I have a lot of Romanians, good friends. We developed together with the referees a strong relationship and we reached targets which before years nobody even dreamed. Next target is the World Cup. What is also very important is that Romanian refereeing has a future, because a second young generation will get experience and will be able to challenge and continue a successful representation worldwide. Even in this difficult period we managed to be in daily contact, to exchange opinions.
Please give a message to all those who follow the "ScoalaDeArbitri" website and to football fans in Romania.
I appreciate your work and your support to refereeing. It is very important for football, for sports, people to know about the persons who can never, win a game or enjoy scoring a goal, but their presence on the field is to protect the sport. There is no sport without a match official. Showing respect to refereeing, you increase the level of football and you do your best.
For the football fans, I would like to ask them to enjoy football as a sport. To understand the difficult role of the referees and think positive. Mistakes are part of football. Not only by the referees but by all who are involved in the game. Machines can make more mistakes than referees and in football we need human beings to take decisions. We may still have mistakes, in matches with VAR but not the clear and obvious. Due to the nature of the sport, a referee depending of his/her view can evaluate differently an incident and this is exactly how a VAR can help; to provide the best possible view in order again the referee to take the final correct decision.
Date of Birth: 01.02.1966
Place of Birth: Thessaloniki, Greece
Studies: University of Management and Economics
Referee: 1984 - 2009
3rd Division: 1989-1992
2nd Division: 1992 - 1995
1st Division: 1995
FIFA Badge: 1998 – 2009
Best Greek referee (voted by players) : 6 years awards
The FIFA SPECIAL AWARD: 2016
54th position of the best IFFHS world referee in the decades 2000-2010
Member of the UEFA Referees Committee: 2009 December
Member of the UEFA Refereeing Development Panel: 2019
UEFA Talents & Mentors Project coordinator: 2020
UEFA / FIFA Referee Observer: 2010
UEFA CORE senior course instructor: since 2013
FIFA official instructor: 2018
Chairman of the Referee Committee (Romania): from 2014
Head of Refereeing Development (Greece): 2009 - 2012
Languages: Greek / English / German
Hobbies: Playing football, Travelling, water sports
European Under -16 Championship 1998 (Scotland)
FIFA Under - 17 World Cup 1999 (New Zealand; final)
EURO 2000 (Belgium/Netherlands) - 4th Official
FIFA World Cup 2002 (Japan/Korea)
EURO 2004 (Portugal) - 4th Official
Olympic Games 2004 (Athens; final)
EURO 2008 (Austria/Switzerland)
UEFA Cup (1/2 finals: 2002 – 2003 and 2007 – 2008)
Champions League (1/2 finals: 2004 - 2005 and 2006 - 2007)
42 matches in Champions’ League group stages only
PS: The pictures in the article are from Kyros Vassaras' personal archive
Thank to Scoaladearbitri.ro for the great efforts in translating the full interview.