Antonio Mateu Lahoz, Star Spanish Referee

Star FIFA Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz
Star FIFA Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz

Spaniard Antonio Mateu Lahoz is the best football referee in the world, and he will be in Qatar for the 2022 World Cup.  

It is rare that one finds a football referee so competent as to make him individually compelling, the last time Papa felt that way about a soccer field official it was Italian Pierluigi Collina, the former referee (winning the International Federation of Football History & Statistics World’s Best Referee six consecutive years 1998-2003) and current Chairman of the Referees Committee for FIFA.

For most of us fans, a referee is there to certify the action on the pitch and to protect the players from any unsportsmanlike opponents, but not to star in it, interrupt it, or change its outcome with ridiculous calls. The job is not an easy one as The New Yorker points out in their documentary.

What makes Lahoz special is his ability to—in real time—simultaneously make all of his calls seem the logical conclusion of the action on the field and to make players and fans alike understand the criteria behind his decision-making. Notice how he refs the next time you see him officiate and you will note that he has an ongoing conversation with the players on the pitch from the opening whistle to the match-ending one.

He tells players why they were given a yellow card as the card is being presented, he gesticulates or pantomimes the action he saw when calling out a foul that the perpetrator questions, and he clearly tells players when he simply did not see a given action on the pitch and explains why VAR will not be reviewing it, he informs the captains and coaches of important calls throughout the game, he gives cards out early to ensure illicit actions do not augment over time, he excuses himself when VAR overrules his call on the pitch, and he is the first to call for medical assistance when a player is down.

When a major altercation occurs, and they are few and far between when he is officiating, he not only resolves the issue as expeditiously as feasible, but he explains to the parties, after ensuring they are calm enough to comprehend, why he has ruled as he has. He does not suffer playacting, continual arguing, groups of players surrounding him or his assistants to complain about a call or non-call, time-wasting, or any other such unsportsmanlike actions from the players, bench, or coaches.

If an important game is to be played, he is the ref you want officiating as the vast majority of the time he will get it right or make it right. He is not infallible, he makes mistakes as we all do, but the number pales in comparison to his peers in La Liga, the UEFA Champions League, the Euro, and past World Cups. When the cup begins next week keep an eye out for him, it is a pleasure to watch him officiate.

Photo: Antonio Mateu Lahoz, Shutterstock ID 1422740936, by Cosmin Iftode

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