Rumori di Spogliatoio

’Nico’ della Mirandola: a profile of the Estonia-Turkey first official

Angelo PalmeriComment

Born in 1971 in Mirandola, a 24,000-inhabitant town in the province of Modena, the 41-year-old Italian Nicola Rizzoli’s name was officially entered into the internationals list in 2007. He debuted as international on the same year as Germany-Romania (3-1) official, a friendly match.

His international club football debut was in October 2008 when he officiated Sporting Lisbon-Basel (2-0), a UEFA Champions League group stage game. During that game he cautioned 4 players (3 of the home side and 1 Swiss, the forward Marco Streller) and didn’t assign any penalty. 

In 2010, after a series of excellent performances, he is upgraded to the ’Elite’ referees group by UEFA. In the same year he will be assigned a couple of prestigious games (Real Madrid – Olympique Lyonnaise and Man United – Bayern Munich for the Champions League) and the Europa League final, Atletico Madrid-Fulham (4 yellow cards shown in that game won by the Spaniards).

In 2011 the AIC (the Italian Footballers Association) nominated Nicola as the ’Best Ref of 2011’. A year later he was the only Italian first official at the Euro2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Upon choosing Rizzoli as the Italian face for the EuroCup referees squad, the Italian refs chief, Stefano Braschi (a former international) said: ’’I chose him because, compared to the others, he’s got a superior international experience’’.

During the Euro Cup he officiated France-England (1-1) and Portugal-Holland (2-1) in the group stage; and later on Spain-France (2-0) in the quarter finals: he assigned a penalty to Spain transformed by Xavi Alonso.

As Italy made it to the final in Kiev, the possibility to be chosen for the most important game was put off. When Balotelli & Co. made sure he was not going to officiate that game he declared: ’’We (Rizzoli and his assistants – A.P.) did everything we could to reach this goal, however our destiny depends on the national team. I will watch the final and support ’Azzurri’ with no regret’’

His big day will come just one year after when he was entrusted the whistle of the all-German Champions League final in Wembley, Bayern Munich-BVB: Rizzoli assigned a penalty to BVB for Dante fouling Reus in the box however, quite controversially, he didn’t book the Brazilian for the second time causing arguments in the post-match commentaries.

He was chosen by his ’teacher’, the UEFA referee Chief Pierluigi Collina, to officiate that game.

After the final Rizzoli confessed to ’La Gazzetta dello Sport’: “I was alone (in the dressing room – A.P.), I looked at the stadium and at all the fans cheering – even Dortmund's. The tension melted away and I was moved to tears. I thought I had done well, but I wanted to wait for Collina's judgement. If I had done something wrong I would have been disappointed and, because I grew up with Collina, it would have been even harder. So when he entered the dressing room, I held my breath. He looked at me for a couple of seconds and there was silence. Then he said: 'well done, well done, everyone' ”.

During Summer 2013 he has taken part to the FIFA U20 World Cup where he officiated two games.

Outside the pitch he is an architect and when he was 20-year-old he served as a policeman during his military duty. Married with no children, her wife, a lawyer, follows and records all his games. He loves reading and watching action movies.

Upon decision of Pierluigi Pairetto and Paolo Bergamo (then chiefs of the referee association and later on involved in the ’Calciopoli’ scandal) he debuted in Serie A in 2002. Among many he is considered the heir of Collina himself.

The bulk of his career belongs to Serie A: 169 games in 13 seasons, 762 yellow cards (4,5 a game) and 49 reds: his peak was in 2006-07 when he showed the yellow card 102 times, in 2010-11  the red card peak was 7. 

He has also officiated games in abroad leagues: twice in Saudi Arabia and once in Egypt.
His last international duty was on the 21st of August when Ojamaa’s Legia Warsaw equalized in Bucharest with Steaua (1-1).

In 67 international games, he has assigned 18 penalties to the home team and 3 to the away one.

Rizzoli is known for his relaxed but firm attitude towards the footballers. He is open to dialogue and explanation although his openness has been abused in the past, as it happened in 2009 with Francesco Totti in this well-known episode when the Roma captain openly sent him to hell (Rizzoli had accidentally been on Totti’s way while he was trying to shoot from distance):

The fact he didn’t show a red card to the ’giallorossi’ legend created controversy over his capacity to get respect on the pitch.

Estonia-Turkey will be his sixth FIFA WC qualifier (he has already officiated two during this campaign).

In the previous five he has shown 15 yellow cards and no red ones. It is not the first time that Nicola officiates a game involving Eesti Koondis, as one of those five WC qualifiers was Estonia-Bosnia. The game ended 0-2 and Nicola cautioned only two players, one for each side (for Estonia it was Dmitrijev).

That was the 10th of October 2009, four years after Rizzoli returns to Tallinn accompanied by the same linemen of that game: Andrea Stefani and Renato Faverani, only the fourth official will be different (Marco Banti instead of Andrea De Marco).

Fausto Di Nella, TereItalia.Org president and editor, was a referee in the Bologna branch of the Italian referee national association (AIA) when Rizzoli was the chief soon after the ’Calciopoli’ scandal: ’’After such a scandal, he took over the responsibility and burden of leading our branch as his honesty was undoubted. Every Monday we had the weekly all-hands briefing: he didn’t miss one and he was always available to talk to everyone giving pieces of advices’’ remembers vividly. ’’He established a slow-motion replay (the so-called ’moviola’ – A.P.) at the end of every briefing’’ adds Fausto ’’during which anyone could make questions about anything happened in any game, either ours or some Serie A or international ones’’ reveals the 28–year-old former referee. ’’He was ready to comment and give explanations about his mistakes too!’’

Another former referee of the Bologna branch of AIA is the Italian football expert for CNN and beINSport USA correspondent Tancredi Palmeri: ''at the time when I was completing my referee course in Bologna in Autumn 2000, the news broke that Nicola Rizzoli was promoted as Serie A referee. It was a great pride for all the branch as it had been ages since the last time Bologna had an official in the top-flight. Collina was from Bologna, but then he moved to another branch, therefore Rizzoli was the first after many years'' recalls Tancredi. ''At that time Nicola was finishing the studies in architecture. He was a very conscientious and well-mannered person and we learnt the refereeing job exactly from the same teachers Collina had. There was a big party at the branch to celebrate the event and Nicola had a speech: he was very shy and visibly embarassed''

However not an attitude he has on the pitch where he is firm, authoritative but not authoritarian.