Top 10 Best Football Referees Of All Time In The World

March 8, 2023

Football is a sport that is loved and supported by millions of people worldwide. A game that creates wonderful memories, fierce rivalries, and brotherhood. A referee is in charge of upholding fair play and the rules of the game during every football game.

In order to preserve the fairness and respectability of the game of football, referees play a crucial role. Referees have one of the hardest and most scrutinized jobs in the game since their choices can frequently mean the difference between victory and defeat.

The ten best football referees in history will be reviewed retrospectively in this article. These officials have attained fame for their unshakable consistency, neutrality, and professionalism.

The top ten football referees in the world are debatable and subjective, thus it is important to keep that in mind. As each referee has their likes and opinions, there is no clear way to rank them. Yet, we consider that the referees on our list have shown a caliber of excellence deserving of praise and celebration.

Without further ado, let’s have a look at the list and honor the referees who have contributed significantly to the beloved sport that we all enjoy!

Criteria For The Selection Of Best Football Referees

The process of ranking the top ten football referees in history was not simple. Innumerable referees have made important contributions to the game, thus it was difficult to limit the list to just 10.

We developed a set of standards to gauge each referee’s effectiveness to make sure the selection procedure was as impartial and fair as possible.

A crucial factor in our selection process was consistency. We evaluated each referee’s ability to regularly make wise judgments, keep the game under control, and uphold the regulations. We also took into account the referees’ capacity for consistency over an extended length of time because some referees may have given good performances in a short amount of time but were unable to maintain those standards.

Fairness was another crucial factor in our evaluation. We analyzed how fairly each referee treated all teams and players, regardless of their reputation or status. We also looked at whether they were impartial and avoided favoritism towards any particular team.

Last but not least, we assessed the referees’ composure under pressure. Referees must be able to retain their composure and make logical choices amid stressful, emotional, and highly charged events like football games. We evaluated each referee’s ability to handle difficult decisions, deal with combative players, and control the speed of the game as a whole.

10. Martin Atkinson


Martin Atkinson is one of the best football referees of all time

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Martin Atkinson is number 10 on our list of the best football referees of all time in the world. Atkinson is well-known for his tactical awareness and ability to cover territory during the game.

The apex of his illustrious career thus far is undoubtedly his illustrious referring of the 2011 FA Cup final and the 2014 Football League Cup final, both of which resulted in Manchester City’s victory.

Martin Atkinson’s phenomenal display of officiating prowess manifested itself during the 2009-10 Premier League season when he presided over a staggering 48 matches in English football, an unprecedented feat that still endures as his zenith to this day.

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9. Cüneyt Çakır


Cüneyt Çakır is one of the best football referees of all time

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Cüneyt Çakır is certainly the best referee in football when it comes to showing composure under pressure. The vivacious and unflustered 46-year-old Turkish referee, who is recognized as one of football’s greatest officials, has a distinguished and illustrious career as a FIFA international referee.

His distinguished record of officiating spans nearly 200 matches within the hallowed precincts of the Turkish Super Lig, where his integrity and decision-making have earned him near-universal acclaim.

In the 2012 Champions League semifinal match between FC Barcelona and Chelsea at Camp Nou, Cüneyt Çakır was the official who sent John Terry off, etching his name into football lore as a referee of remarkable fortitude and courage.

Çakır, who also officiated two different semi-final games in the 2015–16 UEFA Champions League, made history as the first and only referee to do so, cementing his status as a towering figure in the refereeing pantheon.

8. Felix Brych


Felix Brych is one of the best football referees of all time

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Felix Brych deserves to be on the list of the best football referees of our generation. The veteran German referee, Felix Brych, has firmly cemented his status as one of the finest referees of the beautiful game.

With an impressive tenure as a FIFA licensed referee that stretches back to 2007, he has garnered global recognition as a UEFA Elite referee.

In charge of some of the most important games in football history, such as the 2014 UEFA Europa League Final between Sevilla and Benfica and the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final, Brych’s remarkable insight has been on full display throughout his career. Brych also officiated some games in the FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia.

In addition to his remarkable achievements on the pitch, it is worth noting that Brych is also a qualified doctor of law, a testament to his intellectual prowess and versatility.

7. Jack Taylor

Jack Taylor is one of the best football referees of all time

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At number 7 on our list of the best referees in football, we have Jack Taylor. Jack Taylor, an English referee, achieved a remarkable feat in the 1974 World Cup final, where he officiated the game between West Germany and the Netherlands.

Besides that game, Jack Taylor holds the record for the quickest red card in the history of football by sending off a player within just three seconds into a match in 2000. He sent off Hartlepool’s Andy Woodward for a foul immediately following the start of the game between Hartlepool and Darlington. The choice, despite considerable criticism, demonstrates Taylor’s resolve to respect the game’s rules — even when they are contentious.

Taylor’s reputation in the game was built upon his consistent and impartial enforcement of the rules, which earned him widespread recognition as a fair referee.

6. Howard Webb

Howard Webb is one of the best football referees of all time

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At number six on our list of the best football referees of all time in the world, we have Howard Webb. Howard Webb, a retired professional football referee, dedicatedly officiated in the Premier League from 2003 to 2014, while concurrently holding the position of a FIFA international referee between 2005 and 2014.

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Webb’s commitment to the sport is evident in his retirement as he took on the role of Technical Director of Professional Game Match Officials Limited.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands was one of Webb’s most important games. Webb had to make some challenging decisions during the violent and furious game, including issuing a record-breaking 14 yellow cards and one red card.

Another important competition that Webb officiated was the 2010 UEFA Champions League Final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich. Webb had to deal with several problematic events throughout the game in Madrid, including a debatable handball by Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich.

Howard Webb was one of the best referees of his era, despite the controversy that dogged his career. Players, coaches, and spectators all over the world praise him for his commitment to the game and his capacity to perform under pressure.

5. Kim Milton Nielsen


Kim Milton Nielson is one of the best football referees of all time

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Kim Milton Nielson is one of the best football referees of all time in the world. Kim Milton Nielsen, a former international football referee from Denmark, was born on August 3, 1960. Nielsen, an IT manager by profession, stands 1.96 m tall, which made him taller than most footballers.

At the age of 15, Nielsen started officiating games because he wanted to learn the rules of football. In 1988, when he was still in his late 20s, he received his FIFA international badge. A decade later, he started officiating Danish top-flight matches.

53 UEFA Champions League games and 154 international appearances make up his illustrious officiating career.

Nielson was given another honor when he was chosen to officiate the 2004 UEFA Champions League Final between AS Monaco and Porto at the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen.

Kim Milton Nielsen’s ability to control high-pressure matches and make impartial decisions has made him a respected figure in the football world, and his legacy continues to inspire young referees to this day.

4. Bjorn Kuipers

Bjorn Kuipers is one of the best football referees of all time

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Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers is among the best football referees of all time. Aged 49, is a member of the UEFA Elite group of referees and has been recognized as a FIFA referee since 2006. He is renowned for his agility and has a solid record of officiating with minimal controversies.

Kuipers has presided over many important football games during his career, including the 2011 UEFA Super Cup, the 2013 UEFA Europa League Final, and the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup Final. He officiated the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup final as well as the 2014 UEFA Champions League Final.

Kuipers has a distinguished career as a referee and also owns a grocery in the Netherlands. Notably, he officiated the Euro 2020 championship match.

3. Michel Vautrot


Michel Vautrot is one of the best football referees of all timeMichel Vautrot is one of the best football referees of all time

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FIFA-Schiedsrichter Michel Vautrot (Frankreich); Vneg, quer, Freisteller, Schiri, Referee, Unparteiischer, Gestik, zeigen, Weltmeisterschaft 1990, Länderspiel, Nationalmannschaft, Nationalteam, Nationaltrikot, Halbfinale Neapel Stadio San Paolo Fußball WM Herren Mannschaft Italien Einzelbild Aktion Personen

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Michel Vautrot is number three on our list of the best football referees in the history of football. The retired French referee, Michel Vautrot, is well-known for officiating in the 1983 Club World Cup final in Tokyo between Hamburg and Gremio. Moreover, he officiated the 1986 European Cup Final between Barcelona and Steaua Bucharest.

During the 1984 European Cup semi-final second leg between Roma and Dundee United, Roma president Dino Viola was found guilty of bribing referee Vautrot with £50,000, resulting in a UEFA ban for Viola in 1986. Although Roma advanced to the final, they eventually lost to Liverpool on penalties.

2. Daniele Orsato

Daniele Orsato is one of the best football referees of all time

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At number 2 on our list of the best football referees of all time, we have Daniele Orsato. The 47-year-old Italian referee has been an esteemed FIFA full international referee since 2010, having commanded over 300 matches with his impressive proficiency and consistent officiating.

Orsato is known for being in charge of the memorable 2020 UEFA Champions League Final, where he expertly oversaw the gripping encounter between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich.

Furthermore, his distinguished and unparalleled officiating abilities were acknowledged and celebrated when he was conferred with the coveted title of the best referee of 2020 by the esteemed International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFTHS).

The renowned Orsato was chosen and trusted to preside over the opening game of the eagerly anticipated 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, officiating the thrilling contest between Ecuador and Qatar with his extraordinary abilities and knowledge, adding to his impressive list of achievements as a referee.

1. Pierluigi Collina


Pierluigi Collina is one of the best football referees of all time

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And finally, to answer who is the best football referee of all time? Pierluigi Collina is the best referee in football without a shadow of a doubt. Pierluigi Collina, a distinguished FIFA referee since 1995, has had the privilege of overseeing some of the most prestigious and captivating football matches worldwide with his exceptional skills.

Collina’s spectacular and faultless performance in the highly awaited 2002 World Cup final between the footballing heavyweights Brazil and Germany was unquestionably the pinnacle of his illustrious career. The world’s best players were on both teams, but Collina’s skillful management of the game brought him considerable praise and admiration.

Pierluigi Collina also officiated over the 1999 UEFA Champions League final, which featured a tense battle between Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the legendary Nou Camp in Barcelona.

Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored two late goals for Manchester United to secure the victory in stoppage time. Collina displayed excellent decision-making and officiating abilities throughout the game.

Pierluigi Collina achieved the remarkable feat of being named the best referee of the year for six consecutive years. Overall, Pierluigi Collina is a true legend of the game because of his dependability, impartiality, and capacity for handling demanding circumstances. He is regarded as the best football referee of all time, and future generations will continue to honor his contributions to the game.

Honorable Mentions

The ten best football referees in history have been listed, however, there were a few officials who almost missed the cut but are still remembered for their contributions to the game.

  • Ravshan Irmatov
  • Nicola Rizzoli
  • Danny Makkeile
  • Victor Gomes
  • Oscar Ruiz
  • Daniel Siebert

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