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Most Iconic Football Referees


Most Iconic Football Referees

Football referees are trained in national camps affiliated with FIFA
The national organization recommends its top officials to FIFA for their final FIFA International Referees List.

Since the origin of Football, the game has witnessed Iconic Referees over the time period. They became larger-than-life figures due to their fair play nature and right calls. They enforce the rules and discipline the players (and managers too) on the field. Notably, referees solely have the authority to start, pause, resume or end games when they wish. As Such powers in their hands, only a few remain intact and serve the game without creating any controversy. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 Most Iconic Football Referees

Key takeaways:

  • Football referees are trained in national camps affiliated with FIFA
  • The national organization recommends its top officials to FIFA for their final FIFA International Referees List.
  • FIFA allows referees to wear jerseys among the five colors which are black, red, yellow, green, and blue.

Most Iconic Football Referees

Without the involvement of Referees, the game would be mean less. In Football, every challenge turns into a war between two sides if there’s no one to tell who fouls who?. So without referees, Football can’t be enjoyed. The final decision authority gives them the superior status above all.

10). Oscar Ruiz

He is known as perhaps the best Colombian referee in the country’s history. Retired Colombian football referee Oscar Ruiz Acosta made his name as the best Colombian referee of all time. He worked as a FIFA-affiliated referee from 1995 to 2011.

Over the course of 16 years, He officiated games at 3 different world cups (2002, 2006, and 2010). Career over 16 years, he was part of one controversy at the time of his retirement.

Ruiz has received severe criticism after he sent off Yoann Gourcuff in the final group stage match between France and South Africa.

9). Peter Mikkelsen

Pioneer of the greatest Danish refereeing, Peter Mikkelsen serve as an A-listed referee from 1985 to 1996. He was awarded the World’s Best Referee in 1991 and 1993 by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

Mikkelsen officiated two matches at the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy. At that time he was 30 years old, which brought him nationwide recognition. In the 1994 Word Cup, He refereed three matches.

His working experience also includes years of refereeing at UEFA European Football Championship tournaments in 1992 and 1996. 

8). Michel Vautrot

Michel was one of the best French referees. In internationals, he officiated high-profile matches including two matches in the 1982 FIFA World Cup and three matches in 1986. In 1986, he also officiated the EURO cup final between FC Steaua Bucharest and FC Barcelona. 

Michel Vautrot has won the IFFHS best referee award twice in his career. Despite all the success,  He was once criticized for a match-fixing scandal in which FIFA banned FC Roma for bribing him with 50,000 Euros in the 1986 European Cup semi-final between Roma and Dundee United. 

7). Howard Webb

Howard Webb was the son of a referee who officiated the game of football for 35 years, One can say why he chose this job as a career. He started his career earlier, but became a FIFA referee in 2005 and remain till 2014.

He made a record of being a referee for two high-profile final matches, in the same calendar year, the UEFA Champions League final, and the FIFA World Cup Final in 2010. 

In 2014, he decided to retire and is the Manager of Video Assistant Referee Operations for Major League Soccer’s professional Referee Organization. Many view him as the best referee to have come out of England. 

6). Pedro Proença

Proenca became the FIFA-affiliated referee in 2003 and appeared in the UEFA’s Elite category in 2009. He was awarded the Best Referee of the Year in 2007 and 2011 by the Portuguese Football Federation and the IFFHS World’s Best Referee in 2007, 2011, and 2012. 

Portugal-born referee Pedro Proneca is still officiating official football matches. Pedro Proença has the rare feat of officiating both the finals of the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA European Championship in the same year. Also, he refereed both the Portuguese Super Cup and Cup of Portugal finals as well. Quite a record.

5). Frank de Bleeckere

Record seven times Belgian Professional Referee of the Year, Frank de Bleeckere pave his path to success. He made his debut in 1984 and worked as a FIFA-affiliated referee from 1998 to 2012.

His first international match was between Cyprus and Ireland at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Qualifier. Bleeckere then continued his international journey by refereeing many matches.

He made his name as the only referee from Belgium to officiate in 7 world cup matches. Bleeckere officiated matches in the 2006 FIFA World Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup. He also served as one of the 16 “Refereeing Technical Advisors” of FIFA in 2012.

4). Kim Milton Nielsen

Denmark-born Kim Milton has a tremendous eye for looking at a foul. He has refereed a lot of matches including 154 international and 53 UEFA Champions League matches.

Kim Milton started his career when he was 15 and first became the FIFA-affiliated referee in 1988 at the very young age of 28.

Later He continued his duty and retired on 16th May 2006 when he reached the UEFA regulated age limit of 45. 

Some outstanding matches he has taken part in included FIFA 2011 semi-final, between Brazil and Turkey, and three UEFA Champions League Finals, in 2003, 2004, and 2005. 

3). Sandor Puhl

The Hungarian match official, Sandor Phul won the IFFHS world best referees award four times, consecutively from 1994 to 1997. With the record feat at that time, he became one of the best referees in the world. After his retirement in 2000, he worked as the Deputy Chairman of the Hungarian Football Association for six years. 

Although with such a legendary career, he faces controversy over his actions in the 1994 WorldCup match. His negligence in the 1994 quarterfinal match, where Italy didn’t fair play against Spain, led to the result that he was suspended for 8 international matches by FIFA. 

2). Markus Merk

German-born referee, Markus Merk is widely considered the best football referee of his time. Markus holds the record for officiating the highest number of Bundesliga matches.

He received FIFA’s “Best Referee of the Year” award three times and DFB German Referee of the Year a record six times.

Markus debuted as the youngest Bundesliga referee in 1988 at the age of 25. He officiated football matches at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

He served his terms as a FIFA-listed referee starting from the 1993 World Cup qualifier until his retirement in 2008.

1). Pierluigi Collina

Pierluigi was an Italian and top all-time most iconic football referees list. The former Italian football referee served his tenure as a FIFA Listed referee from 1995 to 2005. In his 10 year time period, He was named FIFA’s ”Best Referee of the year” a record 6 times (consecutive). Due to his energy on the field, and the decisions, he makes on the field, he is widely regarded as the greatest football referee.

Collina is a current member of the UEFA Referees Committee and has also served his duty as a Chief of the Football Federation of Ukraine since July 5, 2010. 

He is famous by the nickname “Kojak” for his distinctive bald look because of alopecia. His best matches as an official were the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final between Brazil and Germany and the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United.


International Federation of Football History and Statistics inaugurated its World’s Referee of the Year award way back in 1987. Brazilian referee Romualdo Filho was the first referee to be apprised of the honor. Iconic Football Referees are:

  1. Pierluigi Collina
  2. Markus Merk
  3. Sandor Puhl
  4. Kim Milton Nielsen
  5. Frank de Bleeckere
  6. Pedro Proença
  7. Howard Webb
  8. Michel Vautrot
  9. Peter Mikkelsen
  10. Oscar Ruiz

Other notable mentions as the best iconic referees of all time are José Robert Wright, Viktor Kassaï, Cüneyt Cakir, and Bjorn Kuipers.

Written By

High on sports since forever, aspiring sports journalist and a FC Barcelona fan. Enjoys writing articles on any sport. Can also be considered a F1 bandwagoner.

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