The Best Referees in History

They may be the least admired by fans, but the men in black have a pretty daunting task. Still, some referees perform very well and are even considered to be the best of all time. 
The Best Referees in History

Last update: 21 March, 2021

They’re in charge of enforcing the rules in the matches and, are at times, the most hated in the stadium. Up next, we’ll talk about the best referees in history, their merits, and their careers.

Who are the best referees in history?

Perhaps you didn’t know this, but since 1987, the International Federation of Football History and Statistics – IFFHS, chooses the best referees in the world. In the following list, we’ll tell you about some of them:

1. Pierluigi Collina (Italy)

He’s the only person to ever receive the referee of the year award six times in a row! The Italian won the IFFHS award between 1998 and 2003. You probably know him by his appearance: bald, bulging blue eyes, and the unusual ways of expressing himself.

Collina is the only non-player to be on the cover of the famous Pro Evolution Soccer video game. He refereed several international games, including matches at the Olympic Games, the World Cup, and the UEFA Champions League.

Pierluigi Collina oversaw several important matches.

One of his most memorable matches is the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup final, in which Brazil beat Germany and became the five-time champion. He retired in 2005 and continued as UEFA’s chief referee until 2018.

2. Sándor Puhl (Hungary): best referees in history

He received the award for best referee of the year for four consecutive years, between 1994 and 1997. This Hungarian referee participated in several important matches, including the 1992-1993 UEFA Cup final between Juventus and Borussia Dortmund. He went on to referee these teams again in the 1996-1997 UEFA Champions League final and the 1994 United States World Cup between Brazil and Italy.

In 1997, Puhl was suspended for one year for failing to sanction a violent gesture by the Netherlands player Paul Bosvelt against Ireland’s Denis Irwin in a 1997-1998 UEFA Champions League match. He withdrew from arbitration in 2000, in a friendly match between Italy and England.

3. Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)

In addition to giving the award to the best referees, the IFFHS gives them a score according to their performance. Busacca is, so far, the referee who has accumulated the most points (225) in one year (2009), when he was named the best of the season.

Born in Switzerland, he refereed the Super League of his country since 1996. Three years later, he became a FIFA international. He was present at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the EURO of 2008, and the 2008-2009 UEFA Champions League final, among others.

Busacca has one black spot in his record due to a match in 2009. Two Swiss teams were playing and the supporters of one of them began to insult him, to whom the referee showed his middle finger in response…

4. Horacio Elizondo (Argentina): best referees in history

He refereed the first and final matches of a World Cup. / Argentine Public Television.

He’s the first referee to ever oversee the inaugural and final matches in the same World Cup. This happened in Germany 2006, when he refereed the game between the locals and Costa Rica, and the match for the cup between Italy and France afterward.

Additionally, Elizondo has another record: he refereed five games in the same World Cup, also in Germany 2006. To complete his feat, he was present in the matches between the Czech Republic and Ghana, Switzerland and South Korea, and England and Portugal.

As for other tournaments, he refereed two finals of the Copa Libertadores (2005 and 2006) and several Superclásicos of Argentine soccer between Boca Juniors and River Plate.

5. Howard Webb (England): best referees in history

Howard won the title for best referee twice.

The Englishman won the award for best referee twice: in 2010 and 2013.  He began his professional career in 2000 and, in 2005, he became an international referee. Among his most prominent tournaments were the Euro Cup in 2008 and 2012 and the World Cup in 2010 and 2014.

Right after the World Cup in Brazil, Webb announced his retirement from arbitration. He’s currently the director of the Umpires Association of England.

6. Markus Brand (Germany)

To finalize the list of best soccer referees, here’s another “man in black”  who won the IFFHS award three times: 2004, 2005, 2007. The German debuted in the Bundesliga in 1988; he’s the youngest in the history of his country to do it.

Markus was the youngest referee in his country.

Four years later, he led his first international match. He was present at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, the 2006 World Cup, the 2002-2003 UEFA Champions League final, and at the 2004 Euro Cup.

To conclude, here are other referees that stand out: Nestor Pitana (Argentina), Félix Brych (Germany), Mark Clattenburg (England), and Nicola Rizzoli (Italy). All of them have made their mark on great soccer matches!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.