The Italian Almanac

Pierluigi Collina

Italian News - August 30

Pierluigi Collina, the world's most famous referee, shocked Italian soccer on Monday by quitting because of a row over a sponsorship deal.

The Italian Soccer Federation (FIGC) had told Collina he must drop an agreement with Opel or spend the last season of his career in the second division. FIGC and the Italian Referees Association (AIA) claimed the sponsorship constituted a conflict of interest because the carmaker also backs Serie A giant AC Milan. On Monday, however, Collina said he could not pull out of the contract, reportedly worth 800,000 Euro, and announced his resignation.

"I have decided to resign from the AIA," an emotional Collina told reporters in his Tuscan hometown Viareggio. "I take this decision after 28 years of service. In the end, all of us have lost "It would have been no problem for me to referee the whole season in Serie B. "But the question is whether you believe in the referees or not. It's no use going on if there is no faith in the referee." Ironically, FIGC recently changed its rules regarding retirement to enable the bald-headed official to have one last season in the top flight.

Collina, voted the world's best soccer official five times, said he had less sleep Sunday night, ahead of the announcement, than he did before refereeing the 2002 World Cup final between Brazil and Germany. He explained that he felt honour-bound to "respect the rules" of the agreement to feature in an advertising campaign for Opel's New Vectra.

"Respecting the rules is fundamental for me, as a man and as a referee," he said. When the conflict-of-interest issue first emerged Milan proposed a compromise, in which Collina would be excluded from refereeing its matches. But FIGC decided to adopt a hard line, despite calls for Collina to be allowed to carry on from a number of coaches, including Fabio Capello, the boss of Milan's eternal rival Juventus.