Perhaps as interesting to Turks as the teams who are moving on to the finals in the Euro 2012 is the fact that Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakır, currently the only UEFA elite referee from Turkey and the Turks’ only representative in the tournament, was selected to officiate in the semifinals of the prestigious competition.
Çakır, who is also the youngest referee chosen for the European championships, first officiated the Ukraine-Sweden match, distributing two yellow cards to Sweden in a match Ukraine went on to win 2-1. He then oversaw the Italy-Ireland match, which saw seven yellow cards given to both teams and one red to Ireland, who ended up losing 2-0.
The Turkish referee then went out for the Spain-Portugal semifinal, which former referee Doğan Babacan stated was a deserved appointment. “Cüneyt Çakır is very hardworking and open to improvement. He has happy years ahead. I know he will continue in his successes,” Babacan stated earlier in the week. This is Çakır’s fifth international semifinal match.
The Portuguese, however, railed against the appointment of Çakır, claiming that he would lean in favor of their Spanish rivals. In the end, the match was far from one-sided, as the Iberian rivals struggled and failed to breach each other’s defenses after 90 minutes and overtime. Spain ultimately came out on top after a close penalty shootout.
On the road with international football
“His performances have honored not only the football family, but our entire people,” Central Refereeing Committee (MHK) Chairman Zekeriya Alp recently said of Çakır’s achievements and honors on the pitch.
Prior to the Euro 2012 competition, the young referee officiated several games for the UEFA Champions League: Villareal-Bayern Munich, Real Madrid-Lyon and Manchester United-Benfica in the group stage, in addition to Marseille-Inter Milan in the round of 16 and Barcelona-Chelsea for the semifinals. He dished out 24 yellows and one key red card over the course of the competition, as well as awarding one penalty.
He officiated two matches in the Europa League as well -- Porto-Manchester City in the round of 32 and Athletic Bilbao-Manchester United in the round of 16. Prior to that he took on three matches for Euro 2012 qualification in 2010 and 2011, distributing seven yellow cards in the Lithuania-Scotland, Portugal-Norway and Sweden-Netherlands matches.
Çakır is also one of 19 candidate referees for the world’s most prestigious football event, the World Cup, which will take place in 2014 in Brazil. If the world’s football governing body, FIFA, is suitably impressed with his performance, he may have the honor of officiating in the worldwide competition for the first time.
History of a referee
Born in İstanbul in 1976 to former MHK Deputy Chairman and referee Serdar Çakır, Cüneyt Çakır, who also works as an insurance agent, began his own career as a referee in Turkey’s lower leagues in 1994. Since the 2001-2002 season, when he refereed his first three matches in the Turkish Super League, he has been an indispensible official for the domestic league of his homeland. He sometimes oversees 20 matches in a year, for a grand total of 170 Super League matches -- more than any other official in Turkey. As of 2010, the childhood Fenerbahçe fan also has one Ziraat Turkish Cup final under his belt.
In 2011, he became the first Turk to be named one of UEFA’s elite referees after being invited to an international training camp a few years earlier. “In education on the international level, especially in recent years, both me and my colleagues have started to make a name for Turkish officiating. I hope that we will put our names on more important successes,” Çakır said at the time. Today he is still working to advance Turkish refereeing with his successes in Euro 2012 and, hopefully, the World Cup in two year’s time.
Over the years, Çakır has built up an impressive report card of matches, both domestic and international. Though he may not yet have had the honor of a World Cup gig, he officiated five games in the 2011 U-20 World Cup. He has taken to the pitch in a total of 63 international matches, 15 of them within the past year, and 13 national team encounters. He has also plied his trade in eight Champions League matches in total.
Known as a strict keeper of order, Çakır has pulled out the yellow card 730 times and sent 73 players off with red throughout his career. He is dedicated and particular, completely devoting himself to improving his performance on the field.
His continued successes make his country, which is constantly pushing its boundaries in the sporting world, increasingly proud. The prolific referee is also a source of inspiration for others. “As the MHK, we are working to have not just one, but many Cüneyt Çakırs. We are getting positive results. Our most important goal is to have more of our referees in big organizations with Çakır,” MHK Chairman Alp explained.