2016-01-05 _2Nikolay LEVNIKOV: "Being a referee on such a tournament is a great honour and responsibility"

Russian football referees (and their directors) do not tend to be very communicative when it comes to mass media – there are even certain professional and ethical restrictions... However, Nikolay Levnikov, the chairman of the FUR Referees Committee, is carefully following matches of the XXVIII Valentin Granatkin Memorial as a private person. Of course, first of all Levnikov is interested in the refereeing aspects – how the young Russian referees worked on one or another tournament game. Apart from that, there is a sincere interest in football itself performed by youth teams completely different in style coming from all over the world – from Slovenia to Japan.

– So far I would outline three teams by their skill level, - says Levnikov sharing his impressions. – They are teams of Slovakia, Slovenia, and, of course, Russia. But I should make one observation: anyway, with all my respect, youth teams of Kazakhstan and Estonia so far do not demonstrate high quality football here in SCC. So we won't rush with making evaluation of the Russian team playing level, for I suppose there will be more complicated matches ahead. And I would like to highlight the team of Belarus. Although it has always prepared thoroughly to St. Petersburg tournaments and it always performs well.

– The players and coaches themselves gain doubtless benefit from participation in Valentin Granatkin Memorial. What about the referees?

– Same answer. Without a least doubt, this is a splendid experience for the young referees! The very atmosphere of a big international tournament, even a youth one, different team styles which also must be taken into consideration... They benefit everywhere: raising referee's psychological strength, learning to handle accurately game duels and to read the game. Responsibility is high here: referees of this tournament are working as if they were under a microscope – so it's quite important for them to show themselves well, to be better than others on the tournament. And this is a principal task for every referee working.

– St. Petersburg tournament is traditionally held in January – this means that football is played under a roof and on artificial pitch. Do these details create any additional problems for the referees?

– In a sense, they do. There are some specific aspects in playing football indoors: some referees start "choking" by the end of the match due to the lack of oxygen. Only the fittest and the best physically prepared referees can easily bear the entire match. So in this sense we also have a kind of "natural selection". And with regard to the play itself, the conditions for referees at indoors matches are a bit lighter. You see, the ball rolls slower over an artificial surface, and the referees are moving less than usually respectively, for there are less fast and sharp counterattacks.

– Is there any problem about the tournament starting right after the New Year? The referees are people, too; they want to have a normal rest...

– There's plenty of time for a normal rest. If you would pay attention, here we have mostly referees from the second division of the Russian Championship where calendar season finishes quite early. For instance, in November of 2015 they had maximum one or two games and then went on vacations. The referee list for Valentin Granatkin Memorial-2016 has been surely planned beforehand, and working on such a tournament is a great honour and responsibility. So I have no doubts that the young referees started working hard on bringing themselves in right physical conditions already from the middle of December.

– Some 25 years ago, as far as I remember, there were very few young referees on Valentin Granatkin Memorial...

– Very few! Only some were granted this honour, for only the USSR Championship Premier League referees could work on the Memorial. Young referees, including those from Leningrad, could hope only to be assistant referees – and only the best of them! I can say without false modesty that I am fairly proud of having worked at such a prestigious tournament as Valentin Granatkin Memorial in three different roles: as the head referee (and I was refereeing the final match after which I finished my career as a referee), then the head tournament referee and then the tournament director. So the Memorial played a huge part in my life. I liked this tournament very much and I wish it a stable and successful future. I'm sure it will be so.

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