I watched every World Cup final since 1970 live on TV. I remember some awful refereeing in the World Cup finals – like the 1990 World Cup final – and some very good performances – like the 1974 World Cup final – but the performance of Szymon Marciniak in the 2022 World Cup final was phenomenal and the best I have seen in the past 52 years. Hence it is a legendary performance.
Who is Szymon Marciniak?
Marciniak is a 41-year-old FIFA and UEFA Elite Class referee from Poland. He has been a FIFA referee since 2011. He played soccer at a competitive level. The only UEFA final he refereed was the Super Cup in 2018. He refereed two games at the World Cup in 2018. Due to a heart problem, he could not referee in Euro 2020. Before the final game of the World Cup 2022, he refereed one game at the group stage (France vs. Denmark) and one in the knockout stage (Argentina vs. Australia).
What were his assets before the kickoff?
Every referee has a bag of assets and liabilities going into a game. Marciniak had several assets going into the game that helped him through out the 120-plus minutes.
Size and posture
One might think that how a referee physically looks on the field does not make too much of a difference. But it does. Yes, there are short and small referees who can referee at the highest level, but size and posture does help to start with. Marciniak is big like the referee of the final game of World Cup 2018, Nestor Pitana of Argentina. Marciniak is well built and is bald like his boss Pierluigi Collina, even though baldness by itself does not help a referee much. His size and looks intimidate players. Players will think twice before challenging a big and commanding referee.
UEFA Elite Referee
All the French players and most of the Argentinian players (24 out of the roster of 26) play in Europe. Those players play in the top clubs of top leagues and hence play in UEFA competitions. If a player knows a referee form a previous experience – and especially if it is a positive one – then the referee has a credibility with the player. Although some will argue that this game should be refereed by a referee from Concacaf or CAF or AFC, one can assume that any referee from those confederations most probably never refereed a player from France and Argentina except during a World Cup game. I do not have any data to report how many games Marciniak refereed involving the players of France and Argentina, but surely, they know of him with either a hands-on experience or through other players that Marciniak refereed their games. The credibility and good reputation of a referee is an excellent asset to start a World Cup final.
Experience with both teams
Marciniak refereed both France and Argentina in this World Cup prior to the final. He also refereed Argentina in the 2018 World Cup against Iceland. He refereed all three games very well. This mutual experience between him and the teams bring an added level of credibility to the final game.
For a referee, having played the game at a competitive level helps them a great deal during a game. They know the feelings and thought processes of players during a game. The experience helps them understand the spirit of the "Laws of the Game" (LOTG) and “what soccer expects” better than others who never played the game at a competitive level.
How was his performance on key match incidents?
A referee among other things is assessed by Key Match Incidents (KMI) in the game, like penalty kicks and red cards. Here are the three KMIs.
What were his instances of excellence?
1. Toward the end of second half, a French player was fouled right outside the penalty area on the left side. Normally, a foul should have been called. Instead, Marciniak saw a potential for applying the advantage rule in the penalty area and the French players missed the opportunity. This shows his concentration and ability to read the game, because most referees would have blown the whistle for a free kick from a very dangerous spot.
2. At the 87th minute of the game, Marcus Thuram entered the Argentine penalty area and ended up on the on the ground after a challenge by Argentina's Enzo Fernandez. Marciniak without hesitation blew his whistle for simulation and showed Thuram a yellow card. In replay, everyone saw the simulation and how Thuram dragged his feet to get a penalty kick.
Only an alien would have seen in real time what the rest of the world saw in replays, a normal human cannot. Marciniak had the guts to call simulation because if the replay showed otherwise, he would have been buried live on the field of play for the rest of the game.
How was his game control?
His strategy was to call a tight game at the beginning and try to use his cards in black/white situations. He used effective communication skills and warnings when necessary to keep the game under control. He called 21 fouls in the first half and the first yellow card came at the end of the first half. In the second half, he allowed the game to flow more and hence we had 14 fouls in the second half. There were eight yellow cards in total, one for a player on the bench (Olivier Giroud) for entering the field of play without permission and another one to Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez during kicks from the penalty mark for unsporting behavior.
He managed the game with eight yellow cards, all of which were correct. His personality, his assets outlined above, and his communication skills helped him with very high level and efficient game control. Toward the end of overtime, there was a small mass confrontation which he managed extremely well.
To summarize, he made a very difficult game into a difficult one using his refereeing skills, correct calls and his assets.
Did he have any mistakes during the game?
Clearly, like any human he did make a few mistakes in the game. Other than a few fouls he missed, he had two instances in which he could have done better.
What makes this refereeing “legendary”?
If a referee in a World Cup final awards three penalty kicks and all of them are correct, if he has no major dissent on any of his decisions, if he has full control of the game and if he makes the above mentioned two excellent calls that are very difficult calls to make, then the refereeing in that game is legendary.
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Partner with The Game Planners, LLC and the former Secretary General and Chief Soccer Officer of the Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as a Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, Texas.
Photo: Sportimage/Imago/Icon Sportswire