KEIR RADNEDGE in DONETSK: Pierluigi Collina was one of the most charismatic referees in modern football. He was the upfront personification of a new style of match control.

The old cliché in football insisted that if the referee went mostly unnoticed through the 90 minutes then he had, by definition, enjoyed a good game. Along with that concept of the referee being a man in the shadows was the traditional, old all-black uniform. Not an attractive colour. Not one to draw attention. All in keeping with the shadow man image.

Then along came Collina. He made his debut in Italy’s Serie A in 1991 and was promoted on to the FIFA international list in 1995. His hair-free scalp – a style icon ahead of his time – enhanced the intimidatory clarity of those eyes. Collina retired in 2005. He had refereed the 2002 World Cup Final, the 1996 Olympic Final, the memorable 1999 Champions League Final and the 2004 UEFA Cup Final.

He had done it all, published an autobiography and was swiftly pulled into the administrative establishment of FIFA and UEFA. He is still only 52.

No-one doubts that Collina knows his stuff; his career demands respect; no-one ever threw any suspicions at time for being too close to this club or to that agent or some other manager. Luciano Moggi reviled him so that was another plus-point. All this, bearing in mind the culture of Italian football, was remarkable.

Hence, no surprise when Collina was propelled into the media spotlight before Euro 2012 in his role as UEFA Head of Referees. All the referees, he assured his listeners, were 100pc ready for the tournament and knew exactly how to respond in any given situation. This included how to react to racist provocation of whatever variety.

Under orders

Collina had also supervised visits to all the team training camps to try to ensure that the players knew what was expected of them. At least, if players forgot the instructions in the heat of battle they could not protest later that they had not been warned.

No wonder Collina is in demand worldwide for consultations, lectures, conferences, tutorials, coaching sessions, development advice.

So in demand, for instance, that he has been head of the Ukraine football federation’s refereeing department 2010. He took up the role on a two-year contract which has now been extended for a further three years.

By then Ukraine was in the midst of preparing for Euro 2010. But no-one ever dared raise an eyebrow.

After all Angel Maria Villar, the president of the Spanish federation, is also the chairman of FIFA’s refereeing committee which wields enormous power over the promotion and relegation at the highest level of the game’s leading match officials.

No-one would ever dare suggest that Villar could misuse his power.

Same with Collina. As the ultimate symbol of football neutrality – a referee – he was perfectly capable of setting his Ukraine connections to one side while the European finals passed through.

Not everyone could do that. That tells you about the stature of the man. He is the exception who proves the rule. He is Pierluigi Collina.

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