For the random viewer of football (also known as soccer), the referee is not as visible a character on the field as the player with silly tattoos and marital problems or the player with weird eyeglasses.
There is one referee among the many that does stand out, however. His large bald head and the famous, piercing stare that can cool down even the rowdiest players, have caught the eyes of many. That man is Pierluigi Collina, an Italian financial advisor with a degree in economics, born February 13th 1960.
Collina has a long background in football. He played in the church team of his hometown Bologna as a child. Then at the age of 15 he moved on to a team called Pallavicini where he ended up refereeing training matches of his team while injured. One of his friends noticed his talent and convinced the 17 year-old Collina to take a referee course.
In a few years the skilled referee rose up in the various levels of the Italian regional football leagues. In 1983, he was refereeing on the national level. In 1988 he rose to the third highest national level (Serie C), and after three seasons there he moved on to the second highest level, Serie B. After only a few matches in B Collina refereed his first Serie A game in 1991. In the same year he also got married to Gianna and the couple had their first daughter, Francesca Romana.
By this time Collina had acquired his characteristic bald appearance, which earned him the nickname Kojak after the protagonist detective of a 1970's TV show.
In 1995 his second daughter Carolina was born. Also in 1995, after 43 games in Serie A, Collina began his career as an international referee. He was more than up to the task as he speaks four languages, Italian, English, Spanish and French. Some of the high points of his career are the final game in the Summer Olympics of Atlanta in 1996, the UEFA Champions League final in 1999, and the final game in the World Cup in 2002.
On a national level he has received a myriad awards in Italy, and The International Football Federation of History and Statistics has elected him the best referee in the world five times in a row from 1998 to 2002.
One of the things Collina is best remembered for by players happened after the 1999 Champions League final. Collina did his best to console the tearful players of Bayern Munich who had lost the game by two goals made in the final minutes, stating later that "When you see someone crying it's normal to try to say something to them, even if it changes nothing".
Football referees of the international level must retire at the age of 45. Therefore the semi-final between Greece and the Czech Republic in the European Championship games in Portugal on the 1st of July 2004 was the last international game he'll ever blow the whistle in. He won't have to abandon football entirely, though, as there are many premier leagues where his age won't be a problem. He is also taking part in a project between UEFA and the Red Cross to help the young victims of war.
Not only a referee and a financial advisor, Collina is also an author. His book The Rules of the Game tells of the sport from the referee's point of view, shedding light on the details of the job and football in general.
One question remains: What is his favourite team? Curiously enough, it's Fortitudo Bologna, which plays basketball.