Collina’s life principles
Making split second decisions under the watchful eyes of players, managers and tens of thousands of spectators around the world can be a daunting task.
Pierluigi Collina, voted by FIFA as the world’s best referee six years in a row, has nonetheless taken this unconventional path with much success. Undeniably one of the most recognisable names in the field of refereeing, Collina came across the career simply by chance. Born in Bologna, Italy in 1960, he initially played football and subsequently dabbled in refereeing as a hobby at the age of 17.
Collina recalls during an interview with The Leaderonomics Show, saying:
My best mate at school persuaded me to attend a refereeing course together with him and I thought, ‘why not?’
“When you are 17 years old, going through different life experiences is something that you do and 99% of these experiences are likely to fade away very quickly,” he remarks, adding that refereeing was the 1/100 exception which was further pursued successfully.
Considered one of the best throughout his 14 years working his way through the ranks to finally become a Serie B referee, he was taking charge of Italy’s top-flight Serie A matches by 1991. Three years later, he was appointed by FIFA to referee international matches. After officiating the Euro 2004, he blew the final whistle on his refereeing career by announcing his retirement in August 2005 but explains:
Of course I am still involved in refereeing – not as an active referee, but as a chief refereeing officer of UEFA, responsible for coaching referees in European competitions.
His high profile has resulted in lucrative sponsorship deals being offered to him after his retirement, such as Opel, the car manufacturer, and Castrol Oil – one of the sponsors of Euro 2008, as their brand ambassador.
Originally trained as a financial consultant and currently a financial adviser by trade, Collina continues to help oversee officials in Italy’s Serie A and Serie B and is responsible for the preparation, selection and appointment of referees.
He holds a degree in Business Studies from the University of Bologna and an honorary degree from the University of Hull, and was conferred the title of Commendatore dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana, one of the highest honours in Italy in 2003 by the then Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi for his contributions to sports.
Turning hobby into passion, passion into career
Asked whether he aspired to be the best in this field from the very beginning, he replies:
I don’t think you can decide to become the best in the world in any activity, but you need to have the passion for the activity you embark in before you can excel in it.
It all began from his passion for football, then his liking for refereeing developed.
“When I started, I was very focused on refereeing, especially when it became something which required time to be invested,” Collina divulges.
“When you start as young as I did, having aspirations, learning to make decisions and how to deal with situations are not very usual and certainly not something of priority. At 17, you have your parents, teachers, coaches and everybody else deciding and dealing with issues on your behalf,” he says.
“But of course, you need to go through hard work to begin with because even if you have something in your DNA that makes you different from others, it’s the way you prepare yourself and how much work you throw in that gives you the success,” he stresses.
Being a person who played a large role in determining the outcome of some of the biggest games in football, including the World Cup final, the Olympic final, a Champions League final, a UEFA Cup final, to other interesting and emotional matches, what does he do to prepare for big games such as these?
Collina offers the following tips on the different aspects of preparation before a referee walks onto the pitch:
- Know the rules of the game. Basic preparation would be to know the rules and how to interpret those rules with consistency, i.e. to make the same decisions in the same kind of situation.
- Be an athlete among athletes. Normally, refereeing in top levels requires participation in training programmes for four to five days a week to keep the body in good condition, taking into account that the average age of a player is 25–32 years old, as compared to the average age of a referee which is 30–40 years old.
- Know everything about the match beforehand. A referee ought to know how the teams and the individual players usually play and to know all there is to know about the coming game.
Making decisions under pressure
Part and parcel of being a referee is having to make decisions in fractions of a second under stressful circumstances. Decision-making is one skill which cannot be taught. It is something you have to learn, he opines. According to Collina, going through the different levels of experiences – from his earlier jobs at youth competitions, all the way through the higher levels provided him the different background and experiences which moulded him into what he is today.
The experiences helped develop his decision-making skills based on analysis, intuition, experience and emotions. Being a referee at 17 which involved players who were older also helped him mature and build his personality, he continues. Although making mistakes is part of the job and a risk every referee has to go through, Collina muses over the possibility of all the hard work and experiences being destroyed merely by one mistake made.
“Being at the top means you’ve got something different from others and shows you have been doing a very good job to be there. However, the possibility of a wrong decision of the match you are refereeing could destroy the hard work you have put in in the past.”
“So, you can be remembered as the referee of the World Cup finals if everything goes well. If something goes wrong, you get known for the wrong reasons although you made 100 other good decisions in the same match,” he adds.
Collina points out that there are decisions that a referee just cannot make erroneously and the difference between a decision-maker and a successful decision-maker is the capability of the latter to get it right for the critical decisions that he or she needs to make.
Always look forward and never look back
What would be the best way to deal with a situation after realising you have made a mistake, especially with the pressure coming from all quarters?
“First of all, you need to understand why you committed the mistake. This is something crucial to avoid repetition of the same mistake in the future,” Collina advises.
He emphasises the importance of coming back stronger than before and not to continue pondering over the mistake.
Once you have understood why you made the mistake, it is important to move forward especially if you have to make many other decisions in future, he says.
Asked whether there are similarities which define a successful businessman and a successful football team, he responds:
They are many things that are done in football or in other sports to succeed that can be easily applied in the business perspective. Teamwork is one such example.
“In every team sport, it’s true that talent could help a team win a match, but it is very difficult to win a league simply because you have a single great player,” he explains.
Similarly, in business, when a teammate fails, team support is important in order for the team to take him back to the top. Being a referee who is much respected and revered in nearly every corner of the football world, Collina does not have any particular person whom he looked up to as a role model.
“I don’t think you have to copy something or someone, but it’s important to take the best from everywhere or everybody.”
He draws his inspiration and obtains his lessons throughout his career not only from the older, but also from the younger generation. He claims:
“I have to say that I learned a lot from the younger generation at the end of my career, because they bring new and different perspectives into this job. You cannot look at them only as the newcomers, but instead be open and learn from them to continue to be successful. That’s what I did.”
That’s the hallmark of a true leader – constantly learning and growing.
Advice on success
When asked for his advice to persons who aspire to be great in their lives and to be successful in whatever field they are in, the man with the whistle concludes:
Work. Be very committed. Stay focused and always be prepared.
These are the very traits that exemplify his life to a large extent.
To watch the man in action:
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