The man who missed Luis Suarez's bite: Meet Champions League final referee Bjorn Kuipers

PROFILE: Last year’s Confederations Cup final official will take charge of the Lisbon clash between Madrid and Atletico and has an interesting history in the competition

There is little doubt that being a referee is one of the toughest occupations in the world. If you perform flawlessly, you are seen as just doing your job. However, if you make a mistake you are likely to be subjected to abuse by the players on the pitch, as well as by thousands of fans.

One of the prime examples of this is Dutchman Bjorn Kuipers. If you had asked any random football fan whether they had heard of the referee before his controversial performance in Barcelona’s 3-1 Champions League win over AC Milan in 2011-12, the chances of a ‘yes’ would have been very slim. Ask the same question again now and there’s little doubt the name will ring a bell.

The Dutch official awarded Barca a dubious penalty after Alessandro Nesta had pulled Sergio Busquets’ shirt in the lead up to a corner kick and Kuipers has since become one of the best-known referees in the game.

The son of a referee, Kuipers was often seen on the sidelines of football pitches during his childhood. Unlike his father, the Oldenzaal-born figure initially preferred another role in the sport as he started playing football at local amateur side Quick ’20. Only when he lost interest in playing did Kuipers eventually follow in the footsteps of his father and pursue a career as an official.

Kuipers’ life wasn’t all about football as he enrolled into Radboud University Nijmegen to study business administration, a decision he would not regret. Today, Kuipers is the co-owner of a number of supermarkets, as well as a hair studio in his home town.

BJORN KUIPERS | Netherlands

Nevertheless, his main passion remains football, and he has become arguably the most highly-rated referee in Netherlands. His rise to prominence in his native country did not go unnoticed and he was promoted to the highest European level by Uefa in January 2009.

“It’s fantastic to see that Uefa rates Bjorn so highly. They appoint referees based on their performances and quality. Dutch referees such as Bjorn are slowly trained and prepared to ref at the highest level. They’re following an intensive programme where they learn how to deal with mistakes. That’s how Bjorn has reached the highest level. It might sound simple, but only a few are up to it,” Dutch Football Association (KNVB) referee coordinator Dick van Egmond beamed.

His status in the Eredivisie earned Kuipers the right to referee the league’s top games, but not everyone was as impressed as the KNVB.

Kuipers failed to spot one of the most controversial incidents in Dutch football history in November 2010 when he was in charge of the Eredivisie clash between Ajax and PSV. After a brawl on the pitch, Luis Suarez bit opponent Otman Bakkal’s shoulder right in front of the man in charge, but Kuipers missed the flashpoint, much to the dismay of the PSV players.

  KUIPERS’ SUPPORTING TEAM
Assistant Ref 1 Sander van Roekel
Assistant Ref 2
Erwin Zeinstra
Fourth official Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)
Additional Assistant Pol van Boekel
Additional Assistant Richard Liesveld

There has also been plenty of drama outside his native country. Kuipers made the headlines for all the wrong reasons after failing to award Stuttgart a penalty in their 1-1 Champions League draw against Barcelona in February 2010, while Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho was not best pleased with the Dutchman in February 2012 when he felt Kuipers allowed the CSKA Moscow players too much liberty in the Champions League last-16 first-leg clash.

Nonetheless, Uefa have consistently backed the 41-year-old throughout the years. This was illustrated by the decision to select him as one of the 12 referees to go to Euro 2012 and then as the man in charge of the Europa League final last season. He was also awarded the Confederations Cup final by Fifa in the summer of 2013.

Although Kuipers has received his fair share of criticism over the years, there’s little doubt that he is a well-respected and efficient referee. He is authoritative, always close to the action and isn’t easily intimidated by fans, players or coaches.

These qualities will come in handy during this month’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Atletico. His Spanish colleague Carlos Delgado Ferreira had plenty of work to do when both sides last met in La Liga back in March and a similarly busy evening lies in store for Kuipers when they clash again in Lisbon on May 24.

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05 2014
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