Born: 4 November 1963 in Don Bosco, Quilmes, Argentina
Career: Officiated at qualifying matches for the 1998, 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups™; the FIFA U-17 World Cups 1997 and 2005 in Egypt and Peru respectively; the FIFA U-20 World Cups 2003 and 2005 in the United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands, respectively; the 1995 Pan American Games, the 1997 and 1999 Copas America in Bolivia and Paraguay, respectively; the 2000 FIFA Club World Cup and the 2004 Olympic Football Tournament in Athens. He also refereed the 2002, 2005 and 2006 Copa Libertadores finals. Besides being the only man to have refereed the opening match and the final of a FIFA World Cup™, he also holds the record, together with Mexican Benito Archundia, for the most matches refereed during a single FIFA World Cup™ (five). On 8 January 2007 he was named Referee of the Year at the World Soccer Gala, an award from the International Federation of Football History & Statistics.
Miscellaneous: Married with four children, Malena, Valentina, Joaquin and Agustin.
“Horacio, you are not going to believe it”
Horacio Elizondo is the only referee to have officiated at both the opening match and the final of the same FIFA World Cup™. In December 2006, he retired as a referee and recently started work as a director at the Argentinian football association (AFA).
Spaniard Luis Medina Cantalejo s voice comes in over the communications system and into the ear of Argentinian referee Horadio Elizondo: “Horacio, Zidane has just butted Materazzi really hard in the chest … You won’t believe it when you see it.” With ten minutes to go until the end of extra time in the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ final, a murmur spread around the stadium in Berlin. While the ball was in play in another area of the pitch, the French midfielder had struck the Italian defender, but the fourth official saw it all.
“I usually identify the players and call them by their name, but at that moment they were simply ‘the no. 10 from the white team and the no. 23 from the blue team’. “The referee has to be ready to take decisions whoever the culprit may be, neither his name nor the shirt he is wearing should have any influence when you are taking a decision as important as a sending-off,” says Elizondo in the office he occupies as AFA director of referee training, a position he took up just a few months ago.
Having retired from refereeing in December 2006, he cannot fail to recall the biggest night in his illustrious career: “In the stands there was a feeling of uncertainty, as few people had seen what had happened between Materazzi and Zidane. The French fans were very angry because they didn’t know the reason for the red card. Afterwards, the TV pictures explained everything.”
Elizondo refereed five matches at Germany 2006 and is the only official to have been in charge of both the opening and final match of a FIFA World Cup™, no less a privilege than his impeccable performances deserved. Despite the tremendous importance of the final, he considers the highlight of his career to be the opening match between Germany and Costa Rica: “Stepping out onto the pitch in Munich was the culmination of all the enjoyable moments I have had as a referee. Unforgettable memories went through my head, from my beginnings, when I saw a notice on the door of the AFA in 1984 that said ‘registration period open for prospective referees’, through to my first official matches as an assistant referee. It was like flashbacks of my 22 years in football. 9 June 2006 was the most exciting and special moment in my career. And I was even able to enjoy it.”
NO HAND BALL
The road to Germany started with laws of the game according to which hand ball was not considered an offence. Elizondo explains: “I am a physical education teacher and my teacher, Alfredo Miri, had a lot to do with it: he got me started refereeing handball matches.” The football followed soon afterwards. Elizondo’s debut was as assistant referee for the fourth-division match between Midland and Canuelas. This was the first step in an unstoppable rise which saw him take charge of 11 derbies between Boca Juniors and River Plate – die superclasico of Argentinian football. On 9 October 1996, he refereed his first international match, Ecuador v. Colombia. This was followed by his first international tournament, the FIFA U-17 World Cup 1997 in Egypt, three Copa Libertadores finals and his swansong in the Qatari league before hanging up his whistle.
Following his retirement, Elizondo received all manner of offers thanks to the prestige he had acquired: “I got thousands of offers from political parties to stand for election, to become a civil servant… But I always thought that if I was going to enter politics, it had to be something to do with my vocation. I have spent my whole life thinking about sport.” He became a TV commentator, wrote a newspaper column and finally agreed to become secretary of education and sport in Lujan, close to his home 70km from Buenos Aires. This quickly led to his appointment as undersecretary of state for sport: “This led to a lot of administrative work, so when this came up at APA I knew it was the most important thing,” he admits.
THE REFEREES’ REFEREE
“The idea came from APA President Tulio Grondona in September 2007,” recalls Elizondo. He wanted to change the refereeing structure. I developed the ideas in my head into a strategic plan. All referees are grateful to the associations leaders for accepting this change.” The new referee training directorate (DFA) is based on two central pillars: training and strategy. The new directorate has replaced the referees school, which had existed in the statutes from the very beginning of Argentinian football and had become obsolete. “Under the DFA, refereeing has a 21st-century hierarchy. Previously the focus was on the technical side; we have expanded this to a technical, tactical and strategic approach, we have a psychology department and a coaching department, which is groundbreaking. We have also created a department of performance and research, which is responsible for statistics, produces evidence and assessment and enables the teaching and learning process to be continually corrected. There are also medical and communications departments; previously it was very difficult for referees to communicate with one another. People watch the referee for 90 minutes, but they don’t know about the work he does during the week,” explains Elizondo, while also highlighting the DFA’s “very human focus”: “If a person is not happy with his life, it is not possible for him to be a strong referee.”
Argentinian refereeing is taking a step in the same direction in top-level professional football. The working week starts on Friday, before the referees begin their exercises on the pitch. Elizondo explains the process: “They come in on Monday morning to recuperate physically, have lunch and in the afternoon they analyse videos of first-division matches. On Tuesdays, the referees and assistant referees are separated: they do technical, tactical and strategic work (on the pitch, control, signals, movement, etc.) followed by a fitness session. On Wednesdays it’s the turn of the psychologist, and we focus on coaching, performance, and physical work. On Thursdays, the assistant referees work with the referees and passages of play are created for them to practise their coordination. At the moment, this is all done by referees; in the future, we hope to use youth teams for this task. Friday is a rest day. Those who are refereeing on Saturday gather here at the headquarters in Ezeiza on Friday night.” Elizondo has various duties as director: “Sometimes I’m at my desk, but on Tuesdays and Thursdays you will see me in a tracksuit training with the others. I’m like the ‘technical director of a team of referees’. It’s quite similar to a footballer’s performance: your place can’t be guaranteed; you have to earn it every weekend. Those who are on the bench today could be the big names of tomorrow. Our job is to create the best team of referees week by week.”
A lot of assessment work is being carried out this year. “For example, we put a GPS device on Hector Baldassi to calculate how much a referee runs on the pitch and adapt the training sessions accordingly,” says Elizondo, who has already planned the next stage: “At the end of the year, after intensively assessing them over the year, we will sit down with each referee and tell him what’s in store for 2009. In the medium term, we will work on the refereeing development programme, preparing new blood at the various levels and in the long term we will use another programme for young talent.”
Elizondo’s life is not completely dominated by football, however. He is also a golfer and although he does not have much free time, he tries never to be too far away from a course. What most people do not knew about, though, is his passion for poetry. “The Uruguayans, Eduardo Galeano and Mario Benedetti, are my favourites. I also have an anecdote about Galeano: he know I admired him and shortly after I had returned from the World Cup he sent me a package from Montevideo containing a letter and a book with a dedication from him, I was really touched. To thank him for his kindness I sent him one of the shirts which I wore in Germany. I’m now hoping to meet him in person.”