“Collina’s heirs” applaud: referees around Brych can celebrate strong EM

“Collina’s heirs” applaud
Schiris around Brych can celebrate strong EM

By Alex Feuerherdt

The performance of referee Björn Kuipers in the final crowns the overall convincing performance of the referees at the European Football Championship. Even with the ongoing topics of VAR and handball there is hardly any excitement. The German referees can also be very satisfied.

When Gianluigi Donnarumma saved Bukayo Saka’s shot on penalties and made Italy European champions in the final against England, the tournament also ended for the referees. Björn Kuipers was the name of the head of the final, he is 48 years old and was the oldest referee at the European Championships. The UEFA age limit for referees is actually 45, but the European Football Association made an exception for the Dutchman because he did not want to forego his experience and quality. Quite rightly, as it turned out once more.

The European Championship final was Kuipers’ ninth international final and it showed why he has been considered one of the best in his field for years. Confident, focused and clear, he led through the game, he let the game run wonderfully and did not deviate from his line with various trap deposits, especially Raheem Sterling. When the English attacker went down shortly after the break after a three-way battle with Italian defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, many should have been reminded of the semi-final between England and Denmark. In a similar situation, Sterling was awarded a highly controversial penalty, which ultimately led to the winning goal and thus to the final of the “Three Lions”.

Praise from Manuel Gräfe for Kuipers

However, Kuipers decided differently than his compatriot Danny Makkelie, who was ten years his junior, he left the game and made a wise decision. Because the gentle hold of the two Italians and the easy contact on the foot were by no means decisive for Sterling’s fall, which fell mainly of its own accord. Giving a penalty here would not have fit in with Kuipers’ generous duel assessment, and the final should not be decided by a half-baked penalty.

The fact that he only showed Jorginho yellow instead of red after 113 minutes was also okay: Because the Italian slipped off the ball while tackling, Jack Grealish’s subsequent kick on the thigh was more of an accident than a brutal physical effort. It’s not that in those two situations there weren’t any arguments for whichever tougher decision was made. But Björn Kuipers only whistled what he had to whistle and not everything he could have whistled, praised Manuel Gräfe on ZDF. The 47-year-old had to end his career as a Bundesliga referee in the summer because he had reached the age limit of the DFB.

Fewer fouls, fewer yellow cards, more penalties

For the referees, Kuipers’ performance in the final rounded off a tournament in which they received ample praise – and rightly so. Many experts and fans found the overall generous line in the assessment of duels to be beneficial. Compared to the EM 2016, the referees decided less often to foul: an average of 23.35 times per game, with eight matches in the final rounds in extra time; five years earlier there were 25.2 fouls per game in only five finals with overtime. The number of yellow cards also fell significantly, from 201 to 149.

On the other hand, the number of penalties has increased, namely from 12 to 17. This is not least due to the fact that video assistants were used for the first time at a European Championship, who now discover many penalty area offenses that have remained hidden from the referees. However, there were also three penalties that would have been better not whistled: in the preliminary round the penalty for Russia in the game against Denmark and that for France in the game against Portugal, in the semifinals the one already mentioned for England in the match against Denmark.

The fact that the video assistants did not intervene in these cases is due to an instruction from UEFA: If the referee gives a foul penalty, the VAR should only intervene if either no physical contact was made or the ball was clearly played. Because in such cases that is the UEFA standard for a clear and obvious mistake by the referee. None of the above-mentioned penalty decisions met these requirements; contact had taken place in each case. That is why the VAR stayed out – a bad, but not completely absurd decision is something other than a blatant mistake.

Brych and Siebert convinced

Nevertheless, the sporting management of the referees at UEFA did not agree with these penalty whistles. This could already be seen from the fact that she then no longer used the referees of the two aforementioned preliminary round matches, Clement Turpin and Antonio Mateu Lahoz. Referee boss Roberto Rosetti regards excessively tough penalty decisions and excessive field references as too strong interventions. “Let the players decide the game, not the referees” is his credo, and those who do not stick to it will feel the consequences.

With the two German referees, however, Rosetti will have been satisfied, which can already be seen from the number of their appearances: Felix Brych whistled five games, more than a referee at a European Championship. He received a lot of praise for the almost flawless management of the high-class semifinals between Italy and Spain, in which the 45-year-old shone with sovereignty, understanding of the game, stringency and straightforwardness. EM newcomer Daniel Siebert, 37 years old, played three games, including a round of 16, and convinced with calm, consistency and caution. For him, the debut on the big stage could hardly have gone better.

Why there was hardly any discussion about the VAR

The DFB staff were also in great demand at the video center in Nyon: the five video assistants with the most appearances in the tournament include all four German representatives: Bastian Dankert, Marco Fritz, Christian Gittelmann and Christian Dingert. The first three were also used in the final. Overall, the VAR was much less at the center of the discussions than is sometimes the case in the Bundesliga. On the one hand, this has to do with the fact that the emotional distance to many games is greater at a European championship and (non-) interventions by the VAR are judged more soberly by the audience.

On the other hand, the European top executives among the referees and video assistants are active both on the field and on the screens at an EM, so one can expect corresponding performance. It also had a positive effect that the VAR could fall back on three assistants in every game – only one is available to them in the Bundesliga – one of which was exclusively responsible for offside. The checks were carried out correspondingly quickly, especially in the case of factual decisions such as offside positions in the course of scoring a goal. Such a check took less than 50 seconds on average; in the Bundesliga and European club competitions, this value was last around 75 seconds.

Hardly any fuss about handball either

There was also comparatively little excitement about the ongoing topic of handball, although there were rarely any handguns by defenders in the penalty area, which had to be assessed with regard to their criminal liability. The renewed rule change, according to which more weight is now again attached to the alleged intention of the player and more attention is paid to the sequence of movements before the handball, could in any case lead to fewer penalties being given in future.

The European Championship will be remembered as a good tournament in terms of refereeing. Above all, the most experienced referees like Kuipers and Brych put their stamp on it, but younger referees like Siebert and Makkelie also impressed overall, although the latter clouded his very good overall impression a little with the penalty whistle in the semifinals. All in all, the referees were less criticized than rarely in a major tournament. That speaks for their very good quality.