Massimo Busacca is the first Swiss ever to have been voted world referee of the year, capping off a year of sporting highs and lows.
He hit the headlines last year after making an obscene hand gesture to fans during a match, an action he now regrets. But Busacca is already looking ahead and has the World Cup final in South Africa in his sights.
The Italian-speaking Swiss from Ticino will turn 41 on February 6, and has already received one present in advance – the Bonn-based International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFHSS) named him World Referee 2009 this week.
No Swiss has ever before won the accolade, not even the legendary Urs Meier, who only managed second place in 2002.
Busacca is clearly pleased with his title. He is particularly proud of all the many messages of congratulations he has received, particularly those from the German-speaking part of the country.
It was only a few months ago that he became a persona non grata there after raising his middle finger during a September Swiss Cup match between FC Baden and Young Boys Bern, following provocative comments by fans.
After first issuing a denial, he later admitted to the gesture and apologised. But he still received a three-match domestic ban. The case caused shockwaves across the country and prompted much discussion.
“I cannot justify having made that gesture,” Busacca told swissinfo.ch. “It perhaps showed though that I’m only human.”
The positive side to the affair is that it did focus attention on the verbal and even physical abuse in stadiums. For Busacca, it’s a disgrace that a police presence is needed in Switzerland at matches.
The episode is perhaps the only low in his meteoric career. After a spell as a player in the lower leagues, he had reached the top echelons of the Swiss game as a referee by 1996.
Busacca, who describes himself as a bad football player, moved into the international arena three years later. He was the only Swiss referee at the 2006 World Cup and during the 2008 European Football Championships, co-hosted by Switzerland, he presided over the semifinal between Turkey and Germany.
Ronaldo’s yellow card
He came into the international spotlight again when, in May 2009, he gave the great Cristiano Ronaldo a yellow card during the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United in Rome.
Busacca is not fazed by big footballing names. “On the football field it’s A against B, basta,” he said.
The referee doesn’t think that he’s now more famous abroad than in Switzerland. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have been voted Swiss referee of the year five times in a row.”
Nevertheless, he is not totally satisfied with his homeland. He has been saying for years that the conditions for referees are not good enough, especially compared with those for professional footballers.
Busacca himself still works part time as manager of the canton Ticino civil service canteens, despite his international career.
The realisation that football referees are highly professional is only slowly dawning. Busacca himself probably made a contribution to this through taking part in a television documentary on referees.
This shows Busacca in action on the field, blowing his whistle, as well as swearing and laughing. His manner is perhaps not as dictatorial as some as his colleagues – he is strict, but also communicative and conciliatory.
Busacca is ambitious and sets himself goals. He makes no secret of his desire to preside over the final of the football World Cup in South Africa this year – “provided the Swiss team are not in it”.
But he is also humble. He always crosses himself before and after each game. “I have my limits and God is at my side,” said Busacca.
Gerhard Lob in Locarno, swissinfo.ch (translated from German by Isobel Leybold-Johnson)
The International Federation of Football History & Statistics was founded in 1984 in Leipzig, Germany. It now has its headquarters in Bonn and has around 200 members, all football experts, from around 120 countries.
Its aim is to provide a complete documentation of football and it also awards titles such as the world’s best goalkeeper and referee. However, some skepticism reigns in the German-speaking media about the IFFHS rankings.
The IFFHS is currently headed by Alfredo Pöge, a German, who has admitted that the organisation is in financial trouble.
Massimo Busacca was awarded his world referee title after he gained 252 points in the IFFHS rankings, ahead of last year’s winner Roberto Rosetti of Italy (147 points) and Howard Melton of England (52 points).
Busacca will receive his award at a gala in London on February 1, 2010.
The all-time world referee list (1987-2008) is headed by the Italian Pierluigi Collina. The best Swiss is Urs Meier (10th).