New Delhi: Top Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli will be the man with the whistle in the crucial CFL Premier Division match between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan on February 23.
According to sources, Rizzoli, 42, a regular in Serie A and Champions League matches, is expected to arrive in Calcutta two days before the match, along with two other Italian assistant referees.
The deal, sources said, was clinched after IFA secretary Utpal Ganguli requested the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to help in bringing a foreign referee for the key encounter.
Though an Uzbek referee officiated last season, never before a European referee was assigned for a Calcutta Derby.
In the light of what happened in the I-League match between the two teams on December 9 last year, the IFA is obviously extra-cautious about the February 23 tie.
And Rizzoli is the right man as he is known to be a tough nut to crack. In 2010, Rizzoli was the referee in the Champions League quarter final match between Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
With the score 3-1 (4-3 on aggregate) in favour of United, Rizzoli sent off Brazilian defender Rafael for the second yellow card offence. Bayern struck again and won the tie on the away-goal rule.
Rizzoli’s name was recommended by Pierlugi Collina, currently the chief referee officer of the Uefa.
Collina is considered as one of the best referees ever. Apart from supervising World Cup and Champions League finals, the Italian was named the Best Referee of the Year for six consecutive years between 1998 and 2003.
It was, however, not clear how much money the IFA will have to shell out for the one-match deal. Apart from air tickets and five-star hotel accommodation, the local association may have to pay the Italian referees allowances as per the Uefa norms.
Meanwhile, the February 9 I-League tie will be an all-Indian affair. Either Santosh Kumar or Sri Krishna will be the man with the whistle.