Gianluca Rocchi to Referee 2019 Europa League Final

Image courtesy of Tribuna

Just over two weeks away from May 29’s UEFA Europa League Final, UEFA has announced that the experienced Italian referee, in what is presumably his last year of officiating, will take charge of his first European final, Chelsea vs Arsenal in Baku.

Here is the full team of officials:

In case you missed my post predicting the referees for the two UEFA finals, I was hemming and hawing over whether it would be Rocchi or Cüneyt Çakır in charge of the Europa match. In the end, I chose Çakır, with one of Rocchi’s normal ARs away at the FIFA U20 World Cup. Alas, I was incorrect, and we have a (mostly) Italian officiating crew.

My initial impressions? I like Rocchi – on merit, he deserves to be here, and as a Chelsea fan, I’m not disappointed. Although opinion seems to be split on him, I think he’s a good referee. As is the case with many Italians, he doesn’t let a lot go, and likes to call a very tight game. Now, whether this is a commendable strategy in a European final—that happens to be a London derby—is anyone’s guess. It’ll be interesting to see if he loosens up and ‘lets the players play,’ as many English referees like to do, or if he’ll take a characteristically ‘European’ approach instead.

We saw Björn Kuipers adapt and demonstrate a very ‘English style’ of refereeing in the all-English first leg CL quarterfinal between Man City and Tottenham, whereas Çakır, who had the second leg, took a bit more of a hardline approach. Both, it should be said, turned in excellent performances, especially the Dutchman. My money’s on Rocchi staying true to Italian form and keeping things tight, but I’m curious to see how it plays out.

I think Rocchi’s been rather unlucky in his career, with the vast majority of his time in the UEFA Elite bracket overshadowed by the presence of fellow Italian Nicola Rizzoli, one of the world’s best referees in the past decade or so. Rocchi only became Italy’s top official a couple of years ago, following Rizzoli’s retirement, and went to his first (and probably last) major international tournament last summer at the World Cup in Russia. With the Italian Federation mandating referees to retire at 45 years old, it looks like Italy’s place in Euro 2020 will probably go to Daniele Orsato instead.

Anyways, back to this Europa appointment (of which, coincidentally, Orsato is the fourth official). A few things in particular I want to point out. Number one, as I was saying, Rocchi’s AR1, Filippo Meli, will be in Poland for the U20 World Cup at the time of the Europa final. However, he has evidently been cleared by FIFA to be picked for this UEFA match. Interestingly enough, Rocchi’s normal AR2, Matteo Passeri, is not picked, and his spot goes to Lorenzo Manganelli, who is normally Orsato’s AR1. This chopping and changing of ARs isn’t necessarily uncommon—Kuipers had a ‘substitute’ AR1 for his CL semifinal a few weeks back—but I, for one, didn’t think it would happen in a cup final.

Notably, this will be (by my count, anyways) the third different set of ARs Rocchi has had European matches with this season. His longtime ARs Mauro Tonolini and Elenito di Liberatore were with him until the end of 2018, when they (supposedly due to age) lost their FIFA status. Rocchi has been with Meli and Passeri in Europe since then, and will now have a third combo for the biggest European match of his career.

As far as VARs are concerned, we will have, count ’em, four men in the video booth. Massimiliano Irrati is the main VAR, which is a no-brainer, and Marco Guida is his normal AVAR, which is also a no-brainer (Guida, like Meli, will come back from the U20 World Cup). However, whereas the Champions League knockout matches this season have only featured two referees in the booth, UEFA is shifting it to four for the finals, just as it was in the World Cup last summer.

The two extras are (somewhat ironically) Polish referee Szymon Marciniak and fellow Pole Paweł Sokolnicki. I say ironically because the lack of a VAR review on Marciniak’s penalty decision in the Barcelona-Lyon second leg is probably the reason he hasn’t received any more European matches this season. In any event, he is the second AVAR for this Chelsea-Arsenal final.

Sokolnicki rounds out the team, and is notably given the title of “Offside VAR.” In the 2018 World Cup, while one of the four VARs was always designated to only look out for offsides, this wasn’t reflected in their titles, with FIFA only referring to the AVARs as AVAR 1, 2, and 3. UEFA have spelled it out a little more clearly for the fans, but I presume the roles and responsibilities in the booth will be more or less identical to the four-man system seen last summer.

So, there we have it. One announcement made, one more very important one to follow. Last year, UEFA made the referees for both finals public at the same time, but they seem to be holding off, at least for a little while, this time around. Either way, I’d be absolutely shell-shocked if anyone but Damir Skomina is chosen for the CL final. Rocchi was, in my mind anyways, the only other semi-serious candidate, and now that he’s out of the running, I can’t see anybody else being picked.

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