Viktor Kassai has given his first interview as the new head of Refereeing in Russia to Sport Express. We have used online translating to reproduce the interview below, with the permission of Alexander Bobrov, the Deputy Chief of the Football Department. All credit goes to him for the interview.
The original interview in Russian is here.
You can find Alexander Bobrov on Twitter.
Header Photo Credit: Alexander Fedorov, “SE” / Canon EOS-1D X Mark II
The article was published in the newspaper under the headline: “Viktor Kassai:“ VAR is not a miracle and not an injection from all ills ””
The head of the refereeing department of the RFU gave “SE” the first interview after his appointment.
From it you will learn:
- why one of the best referees of the 21st century accepted the proposal from Russia;
- what languages he studied at school and how his full name sounds in Russian;
- how he relates to VAR;
- who ten times chose him the best referee of Hungary;
- who until recently was his main critic and who opposed moving to Russia;
- in what language is he ready to communicate by phone with representatives of clubs;
- for which team he was rooting for and what he received as gifts from clubs;
- Which of the Russian football referees studied at UEFA courses.
Proposal from the RFU
On the one hand, it could be assumed that you would come to Russia, given the fact that the fate of the head of the referee and inspection department, Alexander Egorov, was decided, and the heads of the RFU were exploring the possibility of inviting a foreign specialist. On the other hand, you are only 44 years old. You could pursue a career. I saw your name among the judges of the UEFA elite group who were invited to a gathering in Mallorca, which will be held in late January. Why did you decide to finish refereeing?
It is very pleasant to hear that I am only 44. But we can say that I am already 44 – depending on how you relate to this age. The referees, like the players, have a career that does not last forever. Players finish their careers when they turn 30-35 years old, they become coaches, managers, businessmen. Everyone has to think about a new profession, about the transition to a new stage of life.
The referees have a longer life in football. There used to be an age limit of 45 years, then it was cancelled. But many of us after 40 already feel that the match is difficult, we have to make more effort in training. I started refereeing very early – when I was only 15. That is, almost 30 years ago. Many games, many fees… It was necessary to decide what to do next. Last year I went to UEFA sports management courses. I ended up in the same group as Andrei Arshavin and Alexei Smertin.
The offer of the RFU is a great opportunity to do just sports management. It is possible that I could referee for another six months or a year. But, I think, now is the time to start another career. Let them remember me better as a good referee who stopped refereeing before he could.
In Hungary, did you work as a professional referee?
Yes, I had a contract with the federation. It was renewed every year. But there were no problems with this, the contract would not hurt to end my career. I have good relations with the leadership of the federation – after all, for 20 years I have been in the elite of referees.
Probably, the famous Hungarian judge Sandor Puhl, who was famous in the past, was glad of your departure? They say you have a bad relationship with him.
I have a good relationship with everyone. The next question.
Did you consider the proposal from the RFU for a long time?
I do not remember exactly how long it took. It took a while. It was necessary to put an end to my career as a referee. But the decision was easy. Because I dreamed of doing managerial activities just in the refereeing, I wanted to prepare new generations of arbitrators. And here is such a chance – a proposal for cooperation with a major football federation! Great tasks and great opportunities to show what I am capable of. It seems to me that here I can achieve something meaningful.
Ring, Kulcsár and Erős
Why did you decide to bring György Ring, your now former assistant in the judiciary?
The answer is simple. The head of department must have an assistant. I trust him more than 100 percent. We spent over 10 years on the football field together. We have similar views on game rules and technical aspects. It is great that this opportunity arose, and we will work together. But coaches do the same when they come to work in a club or federation: their headquarters, their nutritionist etc.
How did Katalin Kulcsár, a close person and one of the best female Hungarian judges, react when you informed her about the proposal from Moscow?
Her first reaction was negative. She was upset that I was finishing refereeing, stopping doing what I’ve been doing for three decades. But she quickly realised how important this was to the start of a new career. Of course, Katalin understood that it would not be easy. Because I will leave for Russia and I will live here. But we will solve such a problem, if it is a problem at all.
“Another assistant has worked in your team for a long time – Gabor Erős.” Did the idea arise to also call him to Russia?
No. I could not bring many helpers from Hungary here – those who do not know Russian traditions, are not familiar with local features. In addition, I am sure that here in Russia there are enough of its specialists. And my first impressions are the most positive.
Gábor has an unusual fate. He defeated cancer and managed to return to normal life.
Yes, now he is in good health. And with work too. He has became a successful politician in his region. Gábor also heads the local panel of referees. And it would be difficult for him to decide to move – a large family, three children.
Are you going to continue to live in a hotel or move to an apartment?
I think this is not such important information.
Housing conditions are also important. Roberto Rosetti , when he headed the referees department, moved his family to Moscow. But either the daughters or the wife did not like living in the Russian capital, and they very quickly returned to Italy, leaving Roberto here.
But, in my opinion, it is not so important where to live – in a hotel or apartment. I am not going to be torn between Hungary and Russia – I will live here permanently, and not fly for three days, say hello and fly back. I need to work a lot, attend matches, communicate with referees, conduct training … Perhaps if I began to live in a hotel, someone would decide that I arrived for a short time, that I did not plan to linger here. No, this is not so, I will live in Moscow. We will find apartments for me and for György. I want to know how Russians live, I’ll try to learn the language.
“But you have already learned our language.”
I studied. Six years. At school – all this Viktor said in Russian and laughed.
“So you probably understand a lot.”
I understand a little bit. When they do not speak quickly, I understand that this was also said in Russian with a slight accent.
Can you read in Russian?
I know the letters. But, perhaps, I do not understand the meaning of what was written. Of course, after 30 years it will be difficult to remember everything that I was taught. But even György managed to learn three dozen words in 10 days.
No, none of the referees (Kassai and Ring have already met with the Russian referees at the gathering of the VAR in Sochi. – Approx. AB) taught us anything bad. György will have to start from scratch, but it’s easier for me – I spoke well at school. I can not guarantee that I will give you the next interview in Russian. But I can definitely communicate with the referees.
You refereed a lot of matches with the participation of Russian teams – national teams and clubs. The players probably did not assume that you understand Russian. How many languages do you know?
For me, communication with players is very important. Therefore, I tried to remember words in different languages. I studied Russian and French at school. Then I learned German and English – I can speak these languages. French and Russian remained in the so-called sleeping state, somewhere in the subconscious. I know a lot of phrases in Italian. And, for example, in a conversation on the field with a Serbian football player, he could use the Russian words “without hands”, “calmly”.
Levnikov, Zuev, Nikolaev
You are familiar with many Russian referees. If I’m not mistaken, somehow you lived at a training camp in the same room with Alexei Nikolaev . Sergey Zuev…
Yes, he inspected my matches. In the past, Nikolai Levnikov was an inspector at my games.
Their opinion was also asked before coming to Russia?
No, in this sense I am completely independent. I made the decision myself. But I, of course, will need their friendly advice, information. I was glad to meet with Zuev and Levnikov in Moscow. Now I have talked with Baskakov. I am an open person, ready to listen to different opinions, but the decision, like on the field, will remain with me.
How well do you know the situation in Russian refereeing and our problems? For example, we have 24 people in the list of referees of the Premier League, but only a dozen and a half can really work at this level.
In every country, referees have a negative image. And I have two main tasks. The first is the preparation and development of top referees. This is a priority. Therefore, we will carry out a series of reforms together with the referee committee and the RFU. I am here to prepare referees using the European approach and my experience. The second task is to find and develop reserves, look for referees in the regions, and attract young people to refereeing. It is necessary for referees to create a positive image, otherwise few will want to become an arbiter.
Of course, even with the help of reforms and my contribution to the development of refereeing, we will not be able to completely eliminate the mistakes of the arbitrators. This word, “mistake”, I already know how to pronounce in Russian. I understand that I will have to use it often in the coming weeks and months. But the main thing is to do everything so that the number of these errors decreases. Yes, it’s difficult. But we have a way to reduce them (he points to the deputy head of the judiciary department and the main VAR instructor Leonid Kaloshin. – Note AB).
VAR – not a miracle and not an injection from all ills
Before we move on to the topic of VAR, I will ask one more question. Rosetti used a special Internet platform to communicate with Russian referees and exchange opinions. How will you communicate with wards? Create something similar?
Already created. The work is on. Russia is a big country, it is impossible to gather the referees in Moscow every week. Yes, this is not required with modern technology. We will send out teaching materials. I’ve been here all week, I hope that by March everything will be fixed.
Let’s move on to the issue of communication with journalists. Perhaps this is not done in all countries, but here, for example, every week now the ex-head of the judges, Alexander Egorov, held briefings, answered questions from journalists, and discussed controversial episodes of matches of the next round. Will you continue this practice?
We have not yet talked about this topic with the media department. We will find a solution later.
More recently, the club director, team leader or coach could call Yegorov and complain about the referee, ask for an explanation of this or that decision. Will you communicate with club representatives? If so, in what language? Not all of them speak English.
Well, if only in Hungarian… (smiles). This issue also remains to be discussed.
You mentioned mistakes. Do you know how many mistakes our referees made in the first part of the championship?
“Do you know how many right decisions they made?”
“I suppose fewer than errors.”
“I’m sure not.”
But there are really a lot of mistakes. Even though there are video referees.
Unfortunately, the referee’s work provokes a reaction only when a mistake is made. They don’t talk about good things, nobody cares. The task is to remove this negative. Of course, we will not hide mistakes. Yes, I have already seen some episodes in which the wrong decisions were made. And even VAR will not rule out all errors. This is not a miracle, not an injection that cures all diseases once and for all. Because VAR are people too. There will be debatable moments when a discussion arises whether the video assistant should intervene or not. The RFU will do its best to explain how the VAR works. The main thing is to avoid the three to five serious mistakes that fall to the share of each referee during their career and which fall into the headlines of the Sport Express. I would be extremely happy if the video replays appeared ten years ago.
Because then I would have avoided those three or four mistakes that I made in my career!
VAR and offside
Today, among the problems associated with the use of VAR, the problem of determining the “offside” position stands out. In the past, controversial points were interpreted in favor of an attack. Now video assistants record offside millimeters. How do you feel about this?
There are game laws. It says that if the player of the attacking team is closer to the goal line than the ball and the penultimate player of the opponent, this is an offside position. There is not a word that a spacing of a certain number of centimeters is allowed. If you start making exceptions, then how far? Three centimeters – an acceptable span? And 2.9 centimeters?
If we take the Goal Line Technology (GLT), then the position of the ball relative to the goal line is determined by the technique, not the person. But when determining the offside, the lines are still drawn with the help of a person. It is very important to determine the moment of the pass – this is also done by the person, the video assistant. We are again talking about subjectivity in the decisions of the referee.
But in any case, today the VAR is able to correct errors in determining offsides when it comes to 30-40 centimeters.
The IFAB is not going to change the laws of the game regarding offside. On the other hand, a number of companies from around the world today are creating the appropriate modern computer software, with the help of which an analysis of the offside situation would be carried out and it would be automatically determined whether there was an offside position or not. Perhaps such a tool will appear this year or next. It is only a matter of time. And as soon as such computer programs appear, discussions about the definition of offside will arise less and less.
“The main thing is that the football remains the same, and the VAR is not used every second, every corner or out, every yellow card is not studied,” Kassai noted. – A VAR is needed to avoid big mistakes.
Do you support the English experience? There, in the Premier League, the referees do not watch the video – they rely on the opinion of the VAR. They have been instructed to save time
The question is not what I support or do not support. There is an IFAB protocol. Each country is required to comply with it. And the way it is interpreted, respected or not in other leagues, is not our problem. We are only interested in Russian football.
The British requested permission for the so-called experimental period. They and IFAB will return to this issue after the end of the season.
Who has the last word?
The question of the primacy of opinions in Russian refereeing. There is a referee committee of the RFU, which is headed by Ashot Khachaturyants . There are you and the refereeing department. In addition, there is an expert and judicial commission under the President of the RFU (ESC). Last year, its chairman was Levnikov. When Rosetti worked in Russia, the last word in controversial moments remained with him. He determined how the rules should be interpreted. How will it be now? Who has the last word?
I had a meeting with the leaders of the RFU. We have clarified this issue. To solve such issues, an ESC was created, which will form the final assessment of the work of the referee and inspector in disputed situations. I will prepare and guide the referees. The chairman of the judging committee is not an expert in practical judging, he is at the head of the organization of the work of the entire judiciary and the implementation of the previously announced reform.
It so happened that the referees at their training camp agreed on one interpretation of the rule, but the inspector thought differently, not knowing the agreement, and the panel of experts, which also includes inspectors, supported him. Confusion and misunderstanding arose as to how the decision should be made.
I will constantly instruct the referees, and the basic task of the judiciary and inspection departments is to ensure a common information space and unity of interpretation of the moments.
“But then, it turns out, inspectors and members of ESCs should know about these instructions.” Will you invite them to the Turkish training camp with the judges?
The composition of the ESCs has not yet been determined for this year.
As for the inspectors, Mr. Fursa, the new head of the RFU Inspection Department, made such a request. This is not surprising – in Hungary we also held joint gatherings of referees with inspectors.
How many people will then go to the camp?
Who will act as teachers?
We have a lot of UEFA inspectors.
Do you mean Levnikov, Zuev, Baskakov, Nikolai Ivanov?
Yes. They will give lectures, but the last word on the interpretation of the rules will remain with me. Naturally, after an exchange of views with others.
In the first part of the season, video referees worked mainly on two games of the tour. It was planned that starting in March VAR will work at each of the eight meetings of the tour. But there is no VAR center yet. Where will the video assistants work?
Work on the creation of the VAR center has already begun. In principle, three parties are now involved in the process: the RFU, the national broadcaster MatchTV and Hawk Eye. A difficult project. But we are positive and hope that all work will be completed before the start of the second part of the season.
Where will this centre be located?
Not in the RFU?
I repeat: you should not expect the complete disappearance of errors. VAR is designed to deal with obvious mistakes. Do not forget, video referees appeared less than five years ago. In December 2016. For the first time, VAR worked at a major international tournament (club world championship, where Kashshai was the first to watch a video replay. – Note AB). Their experience is not so great.
Football – love, passion and life
You said that you would like VAR to appear 10 years earlier. In your career, for example, there were three matches when your team made serious mistakes (Real Madrid – Bayern, Ukraine – England, Manchester City – Shakhtar. – Approx. AB). How did you recover then? Hid from everyone, turned off all the phones, stopped reading newspapers?
People have different characters and different ways of relaxation and recovery. One of the most difficult moments for a referee is when after the game he realises that he made a mistake, when he sees on the TV screen what he did not see on the field. You can, of course, hide from everyone, but by this you will not change anything. I tried to do the training together with other referees, tried to communicate. Life does not stop. You will cry for a long time, you will become depressed. But you have a new game in a week. The referee must be strong psychologically. If you will delve into yourself for a long time, remember and think about mistakes; you will quickly end as a referee. It is clear that very big mistakes can be knocked out for a long time – sometimes memories stay in the brain for weeks. You need to recover as quickly as possible. You can’t get hung up, you need to think about the good, you need to tell yourself this.
It happened that, having made a mistake, you thought to quit everything and finish judging?
No. This is way too easy. I did not regard football as a job. This is my love, my passion, my life. And give it up due to one mistake?
In some countries, the work of a judge can be dangerous. In Greece and Cyprus there have been cases of attacks on judges. In Cyprus, one of them’s car was recently blown up.
This, of course, is sad. But the scale of the problems may have been exaggerated by the media. Look at how many countries in Europe where referees are treated normally. In general, refereeing is not so dangerous.
Have you had any problems with the fans?
What do you call a problem?
For example, did someone try to beat you?
No, I haven’t. Once they called, not me but my parents. They said something there. But nothing serious. In Hungary, it is generally accepted that it is dangerous to start refereeing – they say, at the initial stage, in the lower leagues you can be beaten.
There are such cases.
Probably five times a year. And how many matches are played? Perhaps two thousand, but not in a year, but only in one week. It’s the same as refusing to fly a plane if there was one plane crash.
If there is time, go to one of the children’s teams championship games in Moscow on Sundays. You will see what is going on there, how parents behave – including, in relation to the referees.
That’s not news. That happens. It happens that clubs close their parents access to the match. In order not to interfere with the players, they did not demand to do the opposite of what the coach said. Probably, some fathers behave this way because they themselves were not able to become football players. And they hope their children succeed.
No favourite teams?
You have completed a career, you are no longer an acting referee. Now you can finally admit which team you have been rooting for all your life.
Such questions are asked by journalists and fans. Ever since I began to referee at the age of 15, I have always been neutral. I don’t care who wins and who scores. I always tried to work perfectly and referee at the appropriate level. I have never had a favourite team.
But maybe you like more technical footballers like Messi or, on the contrary, they are physically well prepared.
It’s like asking your parents which of their three children they love more.
Should the referee be visible or invisible on the field?
It depends on the game.
You were noticeable.
I think not always. The referee must have a character, he must be a person. But if the match develops quietly, why should I demonstrate my character? You know, any referee will like the game, which took place without yellow cards, without a large number of fouls and without penalties. Spent such a match, wrote a report and drove home in a good mood. Perhaps sometimes I showed character. So, the situation required it.
Who is the best critic?
It seems to me that the referees lack prizes and awards. We held a special competition in the SE called the Golden Mantle, put marks to the referees, summarised them with the marks of inspectors and teams, and at the end of the season we determined the top three. They received very expensive prizes made of platinum, gold and silver. Unfortunately, after a few years, they stopped giving us the marks of the inspectors, and then the RFU forbade the clubs to give marks to the referees. Why am I telling you all this? All the judges who received the prizes said that they lacked such recognition, did not have such awards. Have you ever considered organising a judging competition? Maybe you should start choosing the top three again, hold a magnificent reward?
Of course, the best must be awarded. Prizes/awards should be given. But the rating of referees must be compiled on the basis of different data – not only on the basis of assessments of inspectors. Perhaps it is worth considering the opinion of journalists as one of the components. By the way, in Hungary, the only existing sports publication scores the referees after each match.
Do you have many awards?
It is interesting that I was popular among football players. Nine or ten times I was recognised as the best according to the results of their survey. Several times, the federation and journalists choose the best. Of course, it was nice to see your photos and read the headlines. But, frankly, for me the main thing has always been my own assessment. The best critic is yourself. I could always evaluate how good or bad the season turned out. And the best reward is those positive feelings that you experienced as a referee. Refereeing is feelings and memories. I will always remember the finals of the Beijing Olympics, the stadium, those who were part of the brigade. And the keychain donated by the local federation will remind me about my first match in Valencia. For me, such things are more important.
Collected player shirts?
I didn’t do this on purpose. If given I took them. I probably have 150 at home. Three large bags in the wardrobe. On some my name is written, on some – the names of famous football players, on some – only numbers. I never used them, I did not wear them for training. From one of the teams, if I refereed ten matches with their participation, I could get ten T-shirts. It is easy to follow the work of designers who have developed this form over the course of several years. (smiles)
Referees are not sentimental people
What did you think when you gave the final whistle in your last match – in January in Saudi Arabia? Did you try to extend that game?
Did the players know this was your last match?
Probably. Some of them. In fact, football players, as a rule, have little interest in what happens to the referees. I remember that I told the assistants about five minutes before the end so that they would not lose concentration and spent the last minutes unmistakably. It would be terrible if an error occurred in the last minutes of the last match.
Did you cry?
I didn’t cry. No. But there were emotions.
But are you a sentimental person?
Referees are not sentimental people. Of course, there are times in life when you show feelings. Some kind of sad, sad situations. But in general, you can’t call me sentimental.
Have you watched the games of Katalin?
Of course. Always. You see, when you are at the top, few can tell you honestly how you worked. Therefore, we tried to evaluate the refereeing of each other and share criticism. She noted that I did right or wrong, some gestures that I should not have done – for example, when I accidentally touched a player, and it looked bad on the TV screen.
Your father was a referee too?
What’s his name?
István. Stepan in Russian. It turns out that my name is Viktor Stepanovich Kashshai. (smiles)
In addition to refereeing, you were involved in the tourism business.
Yes, I worked in tourism for more than ten years.
Did you have your own company?
No, an ordinary employee. When I was still a young referee without a professional contract. It was necessary to earn a living. That work allowed me to have a flexible schedule, I could leave for games.
Did you organise tours?
I sat in the office, made catalogues, was engaged in translations, answered customer complaints. We acted as a tour operator and collaborated with two hundred agencies.
Do you have a hobby? What is your hobby?
Perhaps there is no particular hobby. My hobby is my job. It takes all my time. Refereeing takes all day. There is no free time left. Well, if you manage to watch a movie, rather than reviewing matches and studying video cuts. But I think I won’t have time for films in the coming weeks.
Thank you Alexander for allowing us to reproduce the interview in full in English.