Soccer referees are some of the most important, yet often overlooked, figures in the sport. They have the difficult task of ensuring fair play and ensuring all rules and regulations are followed. Without them, soccer would be a free-for-all with no structure or order.
Who are the best soccer referees of all time? We’ve compiled a list of 20 who have made an indelible impact on the game over many years. From Gottfried Dienst to Pierluigi Collina and beyond, these are some of the most outstanding football referees ever.
Best Soccer Referees in Football History
This article is a must-read for any soccer fan, providing an in-depth look at some of the best referees in the history of the game. Who are considered to be the best soccer referees of all time? We’ll explore this question and provide insight into 20 legendary figures who have shaped modern football.
These are some of the best soccer referees ever seen, and their impact on the sport cannot be understated. So if you’re interested in finding out more about how refereeing has shaped this beloved sport, read on!
Gottfried Dienst is widely considered one of the best soccer referees in history. He was a Swiss international referee who officiated numerous matches at both club and international levels, including European Cup and World Cup finals.
His skillful handling of some of the most important games in football history earned him admiration from players, coaches, and fans alike. Not only did he show great fairness and impartiality on the pitch, but he also had an eye for detail that made him highly respected by all involved parties.
He refereed the original European Championship final in 1968. We know him for his ability to scan the game and make decisions with confidence – a trait that has seen him become one of the best referees ever seen in football.
Nestor Pitana is one of the best soccer referees in history. 2014 FIFA World Cup, 2015 Copa América, and 2018 FIFA World Cup are among his crucial tournaments. He officiated FIFA World Cup Final in 2018.
Sergio Gonella is widely regarded as one of the best football referees of all time. This Italian referee officiated some of the most important matches in world soccer, including the World Cup and European Championship finals.
Football fans knew him for his excellent judgment on the pitch, enabling him to make decisions with confidence and fairness. His quick reading of play gave him an edge over other referees, making him a highly respected figure by pundits. Sergio Gonella stands out among his peers as one of the best soccer referees ever seen – a true testament to his skill and expertise! He was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
A Swiss international referee, he officiated numerous crucial matches at both club and international levels, including UEFA Champions League Final in 2009 and the two FIFA World Cups in 2006 and 2010.
He refereed three games at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. His expert decision-making on the field, combined with his quick reading of the play, earned him admiration from players – making him one of the world’s top football referees ever seen.
Moreover, he stands out among his peers for his skillful handling of some of the important games in soccer history, showing impartiality while also having an eye for detail that made him highly respected. Massimo Busacca was truly a master referee who deserves mention as one of the most excellent referees ever!
Retired Portuguese football referee Pedro Proenca is considered to be one of the best soccer referees. He was an experienced international referee who went on to become the first official to handle both finals of the major European championships for clubs and national teams in the same year, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA European Championship.
His quick reading of play gave him an edge over other referees in his era, gaining him the admiration of commentators for his expert control of some of the most important soccer matches. As one of the best football referees ever seen, Pedro Proenca distinguishes out among his contemporaries, which is a remarkable testimonial to his skills!
Cüneyt Çakır’s career as a referee has been extraordinary and highly respected. He was FIFA listed in 2006 and a member of the UEFA Elite since 2010 till he retired. European Cups and World Cup finals were among his refereeing experiences. Cüneyt Cakir’s skillful handling of the games in football during the last decade earned him admiration from fans.
His eye for detail enabled him to make confident decisions. Cuneyt Cakr is a genuinely deserved candidate for the title of top football referee!
Roberto Rosetti was the ultimate referee in Italian football. He started off officiating in Serie B and continued his successful journey to the highest ranking, Serie A, when he retired as an active referee in 2010. Roberto’s professional career was filled with some of the greatest matches ever seen on the pitch. UEFA Champions League semi-finals, FIFA World Cup, and international friendlies.
From 1994 to 2010, Roberto was a ref at over 466 fixtures. He was awarded the best referee in 2008 by IFFHS. Roberto left behind a stunning legacy that set him apart from others since he first stepped onto the pitch. His passion and dedication inspired thousands of followers around the world who followed Roberto’s career with much anticipation.
Frank de Bleeckere
Frank de Bleeckere was a remarkable referee. His career spanned 18 years, during which Frank officiated a number of monumental matches, from the UEFA Champions League to international appointments. The referee upheld an impressive record with officiating 433 games.
Moreover, he commanded respect by reigning with fairness while keeping order on the pitch, making him one of Europe’s most accomplished referees. He officiated 47 UCL games and ranks number nine.
Nicola Rizzoli stands out as one of the best referees in football history. His career began in 1998, and he steadily advanced to refereeing his first international match in 2007. Rizzoli went on to referee some of football’s biggest games, including the 2013 UEFA Champions League final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final.
His excellent performances earned him the title of Serie A Referee of the Year 7 times between 2011 and 2017. In addition, Rizzoli was later inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame for his groundbreaking contribution to Italian football.
Bjorn Kuipers is a former Dutch football referee who had a long and successful international career. He has officiated World Cups, European Championship tournaments, and the UEFA Super Cup over the course of his professional life.
Domestically, Kuipers’ occupation of football refereeing included active involvement in the top-tier Dutch league Eredivisie from 2005 to 2021. Additionally, along with appearances at European club competitions and other cup gatherings.
His careful judgment was widely hailed as excellent during his time, enabling him to receive recognition beyond Holland’s boundaries. Kuipers’ name will remain synonymous with top-level officiating for decades to come.
Throughout the history of soccer, there have been numerous iconic referees who have presided over unforgettable matches. One such figure is Kim Milton-Nielsen. He was an esteemed Danish referee famous for his exceptional skills in officiating some of the most high-stakes contests. Recognized globally as one of the finest in his field, Milton-Nielsen consistently showcased a keen sense during his career. A career including 154 international appearances and 53 UEFA Champions League matches.
Nielsen reached the 45-year-old FIFA age limit in 2005. After the last game of the Danish Superliga championship on 16 May 2006, he retired from refereeing. As such, it is safe to say that Kim Milton-Nielsen stands as a pillar of excellence amongst the best soccer referees of all time.
Renowned for his exceptional skills and unwavering integrity, Michel Vautrot is often regarded as one of the best football referees in the history of the sport. As a celebrated French referee, he officiated some of the most crucial matches.
The most notable ones were two in 1982 and three in 1990 FIFA World Cups. His career spanned almost two decades and included European Championship matches as well. Excelling in his ability to deftly arbitrate contentious situations, Vautrot earned a reputation for strict adherence to the rules.
In 1986, he refereed Steaua Bucharest vs. Barcelona in the European Cup Final. His distinguished career paved the way for future referees, and his legacy serves as an inspiring example of what it takes to be a truly great football referee.
Peter Mikkelsen holds a special place in the history of football, as he was a famous referee, respected and admired by pundits. His keen ability to decipher complex situations on the field and make fair judgments elevated him into a league of his own.
His vast experience led him to officiate over 200 matches, including prestigious events such as the 1992 and 1996 UEFA European Championships and FIFA World Cups in 1990 and 1994.
Mikkelsen’s integrity and commitment to the sport, coupled with his extraordinary understanding of the game’s intricacies, garnered respect and admiration around the globe. Thus, his legacy as an exceptional football referee continues to serve as an inspiration for referees seeking to follow in his footsteps.
John Langenus, a fascinating figure in the world of football, was not just an ordinary referee but one who etched his name in the annals of football history. His claim to fame came in 1930 when he became the first ever referee to officiate the inaugural FIFA World Cup final, held in Uruguay.
Langenus built a reputation for his impeccable judgment and unwavering neutrality, upholding the values that give football its unmatched spirit. His keen eye for detail and the authority with which he commanded the field propelled him to the top of his profession.
Furthermore, a second great career honor came Langenus’ way on June 19, 1938, when he oversaw the third place playoff between Sweden and Brazil at the Parc de Lescure in Bordeaux. Throughout his tenure, he officiated over 67 games, thanks to his considerable experience.
But officiating was just one aspect of Langenus’ multifaceted life; he was also a prolific writer, penning down his experiences in a number of books that later became invaluable resources for referees. The three books Langenus wrote later are an autobiography, “Whistling in the World,” and two non-fiction works related to football.
Langenus’ lasting legacy is not just contained within the confines of the football pitch but extends beyond it, inspiring countless individuals to pursue the noble art of refereeing.
John Keith Taylor
Taylor, a man whose name might not ring a bell immediately, was an English football referee of exceptional charisma. As the man in the middle, he dealt with the often thankless job of maintaining order amidst the seemingly endless chaos that unfolds on the pitch. But Taylor wasn’t just any ordinary referee. He combined an astute understanding of the beautiful game with an innate ability to connect with players. Furthermore, he earned respect and admiration of both the roaring crowd and the athletes that graced the field. Taylor earned an OBE (The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in the 1975 New Year Honours.
On February 1st, 1999, he officially admitted into the FIFA Hall of Fame in Barcelona. As “perhaps the finest English referee of all time,” the Football League named him the recipient of a special award in 2007.
He was the first official to be inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame on September 25, 2013. Each match under Taylor’s watchful eye became a true spectacle. His contribution to football is a testament to the crucial role a referee plays, oftentimes going unnoticed amidst stars and legends.
Diving into the world of football, we come across the fascinating figure of the Hungarian referee, Sandor Puhl. Marking a significant presence in the game’s history, Puhl earned a reputation for his sharp decision-making skills and extensive knowledge of football rules, which catapulted him to the pinnacle of international refereeing.
Born in Miskolc, Hungary, Puhl’s career trajectory demonstrates his tenacious dedication to the profession as he went on to officiate high-stake matches, including the 1994 FIFA World Cup Final between Brazil and Italy. He officiated over 210 matches during his career.
Puhl won the world’s best football referee award four times, a rare feat that only two could boast of. Beyond his refereeing expertise, Sandor Puhl has contributed to the sport by nurturing future talents and sharing his unique insights for everyone to learn from. His story stands out as an inspiring example of perseverance, passion, and commitment to the beautiful game of football.
Howard Webb, a name that resonates with football refereeing across the globe, was a reputable English referee known for his unyielding dedication and fair approach to officiating matches.
With a career spanning over two decades, Webb earned his stripes in some of the most thrilling and high-stakes games. The prestigious 2010 FIFA World Cup Final and the UEFA Champions League Final in the same year were among them.
Before trading his police uniform for the referee jersey, Webb had diligently served as a UK law enforcement officer. On the field, it wasn’t uncommon for him to make tough decisions with a calm and assertive demeanor, officiating over 570 matches. Today, Howard Webb remains an enduring symbol of excellence in the demanding and often controversial world of football refereeing.
Felix Brych captured the attention and admiration of football enthusiasts with his authoritative presence on the field. Hailing from Munich, the 47-year-old earned his stripes by holding a doctorate in law. He was always exhibiting an acute understanding of rules and regulations, which he seamlessly transferred onto the football pitch.
Brych officiated the 2017 UEFA Champions League final, one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world. Besides, his dedication to his profession, coupled with his tenacity, landed him numerous awards and accolades, etching his name into the annals of sports history.
Ultimately, Felix Brych’s meteoric rise as a respected German referee exemplified the blend of technical proficiency for the beautiful game. His passion sparked curiosity and admiration among football fanatics around the world. He won IFFHS World’s Best Man Referee twice, and IFFHS named him World’s Best Man Referee of the 21st Century 2001–2020.
Markus Merk, often hailed as one of the most respected and distinguished football referees, has etched a distinct mark in the history of German football. Born on March 15th, 1962, this talented whistle-blower was just 23 years old when he began his impressive refereeing career.
Over time, Merk’s judgment and shrewd understanding of the sport catapulted him to the zenith of his profession. One of his crowning achievements includes refereeing the finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan. In addition, Merk won the prestigious honor of being named the World’s Best Referee thrice by IFFHS.
Additionally, he won the DFB German Referee of the Year award six times. Eventually, he hung up his boots in 2008. Markus Merk is now a pundit for Sky Deutschland, where he contributes actively to the improvement of refereeing standards in football.
Who is the best referee ever? Pierluigi Collina! an enigmatic figure with piercing blue eyes and a distinct bald head will forever be etched into history. He is the greatest referee to have ever graced the sport. Born in Bologna, Italy, Collina’s zealous dedication towards his craft and unwavering impartiality propelled him to the pinnacle of the football world, officiating numerous high-profile matches such as the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final and the 2002 FIFA World Cup Final.
His exceptional ability to control the game whilst instilling a sense of justice was truly mesmerizing. Having retired in 2005, Collina’s legacy as a testament to the importance and influence of referees in the beautiful game serves as an enduring reminder of his colossal impact. He won IFFHS World’s Best Referee six times, IFFHS All Time World’s Best Referee 1987–2020, and Serie A Referee of the Year seven times.
Now that you’ve read about the best football referees ever seen, we invite your comments and feedback. Do you agree with Footbalium? Are there others you’d like to add? We would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on who you think should be included in this list. Please share your comments.