UEFA has gathered its referees together in Spain for the annual winter refresher courses, with the key message to never stand still and keep up the standards that have made European match officials respected in the world game.
A total of 128 male and female referees from across the continent are enjoying the onset of Mediterranean spring in Malaga at two specific gatherings – an advanced course for elite referees, and an introductory course for newcomers to the FIFA international list.
Training sessions and fitness checks, including visual tests and body fat measuring, are on a packed agenda this week, together with instruction sessions, group discussions and feedback meetings, led by the former international referees that comprise UEFA's Referees Committee.
The new referees are being introduced to the various facets of being a UEFA match official – what is expected of them in terms of preparation and decision-making consistency, putting over the correct image as UEFA's representatives on the field, protecting football's image, and the need to be total professionals and dedicated athletes as they set out on their European careers.
"We want to tell them what being an international referee means, to give them instructions, and highlight the key points that can be important for them," said UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina.
The advanced course referees are reviewing the past few months, and looking ahead to future assignments in major club and national team competitions in the spring.
The elite women referees face an important few months, with many of them looking ahead to taking part in UEFA Women’s EURO 2017 in the Netherlands in June and July.
"We are coming back from the winter break," said Collina. "We want to check the referees' fitness, and touch base on what happened in the first part of the season, while giving them input on the matches they are going to referee very soon."
Course content is mainly based on events in the first part of 2016/17. "Sometimes there are incidents that are becoming a trend, so we want to analyse them quite carefully," Collina explained. "There are decisions that we want to highlight to the other referees – either positive decisions or mistakes.
"The aim is not to highlight the mistakes themselves, but to look for solutions, to ensure that the same mistakes are not made again in the future."
The regular praise given to European referees included particular plaudits for excellent displays at UEFA EURO 2016 last summer. "But this is the past," Collina underlined as the UEFA refereeing community strives to raise the performance bar even higher.
"We can't continue to look at the successes we had in the past – we need to look forward. We are already in the middle of a new season, and nobody will remember what we did positively in the past; the expectation is for good decisions in the future."