There is little doubt that being a referee is one of the toughest jobs in the world. If you perform flawlessly, you are seen as just doing your job and doing what people expect you to do. However, if you somehow get a decision wrong, you are likely to be subjected to abuse by the players on the pitch, as well as by thousands of fans.
One of the prime examples of this is Dutchman Bjorn Kuipers. If you had asked any football fan at random before this season whether they had heard of the referee, the chances of an affirmative answer would have been very slim. Ask the same question again now and there's little doubt the name will ring a bell following his controversial performance in Barcelona's 3-1 Champions League win over AC Milan earlier this campaign.
The Dutch official awarded Barca a penalty after Alessandro Nesta had pulled Sergio Busquets' shirt in the lead up to a corner kick, and Kuipers has since become one of the best-known match officials in the game.
The son of a referee, Kuipers was often seen on the sidelines of football pitches during his childhood. Unlike his father, the Oldenzaal-born ref initially preferred another role in the sport as he started playing football at local amateur side Quick '20. Only when he lost interest in a playing career did Kuipers eventually follow in the footsteps of his father and pursue a career as an official.
Kuipers' life wasn't all about football as he enrolled into Radboud University Nijmegen to study business administration, a decision he would not regret. Today, Kuipers is the co-owner of a number of supermarkets, as well as a hair studio in his home town.
|BJORN KUIPERS | Netherlands
Nevertheless, his main passion remains football, and he has become one of the most highly-rated referees in Netherlands. His rise to prominence in his native country did not go unnoticed and he was promoted to the highest European level by Uefa in January 2009.
"It's fantastic to see that Uefa rates Bjorn so highly. They appoint referees based on their performances and quality. It says a lot that they picked Bjorn for this game. Dutch referees such as Bjorn are slowly trained and prepared to ref at the highest level. They're following an intensive programme where they learn how to deal with mistakes. That's how Bjorn has reached the highest level. It might sound simple, but only a few are up for it," Dutch Football Association (KNVB) referee coordinator Dick van Egmond beamed after Kuipers was awarded the match at Camp Nou.
His status in the Eredivisie earned Kuipers the right to referee the league's top games, but not everybody was as impressed as the KNVB.
Kuipers failed to spot one of the most controversial incidents in Dutch football history in November 2010 when he was in charge of the Eredivisie clash between Ajax and PSV. After a brawl on the pitch, Luis Suarez bit opponent Otman Bakkal's shoulder right in front of the man in charge, but Kuipers missed the flashpoint, much to the dismay of the PSV players.
|KUIPERS' SUPPORTING TEAM
|Assistant Ref 1||Sander van Roekel
|Assistant Ref 2
|Assistant Ref 3||Norbertus Simons (Standby)|
|Additional Assistant||Pol van Boekel
|Additional Assistant||Richard Liesveld
Nonetheless, Uefa have consistently backed the 39-year-old throughout the years, displayed by the decision to select him as one of the 12 referees to go to Euro 2012.
Regardless of public opinion after his display at Camp Nou earlier in 2012, Kuipers remains confident that he did a good job and he certainly seems to have plenty of admirers.
"The fact that we [the match officials] have a good feeling about the match says it all. My phone has been ringing non-stop, and it's nothing but compliments," he boasted after one of the most controversial performances in his career.
Although Kuipers has received his fair share of criticism over the years, there's little doubt that he is a well-respected and efficient referee. He is authoritative, always close to the action, and isn't easily intimidated by fans, players or coaches.
These qualities will come in handy during this summer's tournament, and Kuipers will perhaps be the only Dutchman who won't be cheering for Oranje in Poland and Ukraine. Being in charge of the Euro 2012 final will be a dream come true for Kuipers, but only an early elimination for Netherlands will keep him in the race for that honour.