José Carlos Rivero might not be the center official when Real Madrid take to the field to face-off against the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday, but his assignment as Fourth Official is one that represents another positive step forward in his refereeing journey.
Just as importantly, coming from a background that boasts a rich history in officiating, the showpiece game at Soldier Field will bring a huge smile to the faces of his proud family.
Born and raised in Peru, the inspiration to pick up the whistle has been handed down through the generations. Ahead of this week’s showdown, Rivero looked back with fondness at the foundations that were laid in place for him from an early age by three influential figures: his grandfather, father and uncle.
“My grandfather [Carlos Rivero Angeles] was one of the first official international referees in Peru,” the 36-year-old explained. “One of three that they called ‘the three musketeers’ – between them they regularly represented Peru in tournaments and he reached a level where he once refereed Pele in the Maracana; more than 100,000 people were there for the game. That must have been an unbelievable experience for him.
“He was also an international for FIVB [Fédération Internationale de Volleyball] so he represented Peru at soccer and went to the Olympics, and officiated the volleyball, too. When he finally retired from soccer, he continued his path with volleyball, and he became a director of volleyball, and started teaching the young volleyball referees.
“From the age of three, my dad [Walter Rivero] and my uncle [Carlos Rivero] took me to stadiums. I was there in the locker rooms with them, hearing all this talk about refereeing and seeing all of these things was unbelievable for me. My grandfather had four children, and all four of them pursued a refereeing career.
“I was not planning to become a referee, it was something I had an interest in but I was actually enjoying playing as a goalkeeper. My uncle took me to amateur tournaments and leagues and I was AR for two years; practicing with the ex-professional international referees back in Peru.
“It was something in my blood, it just came naturally for me. I liked it and I felt as though I wanted to keep doing it; I did it for three years until I came to this country.”
The laws may not have changed too much and the required skillset remains largely the same but the game has evolved dramatically through the generations. Inheriting the fundamentals from his relatives was one thing but Rivero has had to combine that with an ever-growing focus on the fitness and tactical side of soccer as the game has grown. He has now established himself in the pool as a referee with more than 80 MLS assignments to his name, having had his first MLS center in 2012.
The biggest motivation for enjoying a successful career comes, though, from horrendous adversity and one specific moment that set him on his path to becoming a referee. Following a serious car accident involving his father, he made a commitment to ensure officiating was carried on into a third generation of the family. It is something that is never far from his mind whenever he takes to the field.
“My dad was active in 1996 and refereeing at the same level as the MLS in Peru, when he suffered a car accident, and lost his leg,” he explained. “His career was then over on that day. I was 15 at the time, and I told him I would continue his career.
“God has a road for everyone, and everything that happens is for a reason, and that was the reason for my father to unfortunately have that accident. However, we had to overcome that, and instead of taking it as a negative, we took it as a positive. We have a very different life here in the United States as a result of what happened.
“I always consider what if I would have continued with playing, what might have happened. Would I have made it to be in stadiums full of thousands of people? I don’t know. What I do know is that I definitely made the right choice.
“When I first picked up the flag I never expected to become a professional and to be living this fantastic life. I thoroughly encourage any young guy to consider a career as a referee. Refereeing will teach you a lot of stuff, things that help you off the field – not least the importance of being responsible.
“It will be an incredibly proud moment for myself and my family to be involved with the All-Star match. My father will be watching from the stands, with my wife and my grandfather and the rest of the family will be watching on TV in Peru, just as they do for my other games. For them it’s a joy.”