Benoît Bastien takes charge of Friday's U21 EURO final in Krakow – and the Frenchman says that if a referee is prepared to put in the hard work, his chances of progress are greatly increased.
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French referee Benoît Bastien says he will remember the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Poland as an "outstanding experience, both on a human and refereeing level".
But, before he returns home, the 34-year-old from Épinal, in eastern France, has one more memorable experience to savour – his appointment to take charge of Friday's eagerly anticipated final between Germany and Spain in Krakow.
Bastien will be accompanied at Krakow Stadium by four compatriots – assistant referees Hicham Zakrani and Frédéric Haquette, and additional assistant referees Benoît Millot and Jerome Miguelgorry. Fourth official Ivan Kružliak and reserve official Branislav Hancko are both from Slovakia.
Pride at being chosen for the final goes hand-in-hand with a clear focus and firm sense of responsibility, an attitude that characterises all high-level referees.
"I felt satisfaction, honour, pleasure, and it was recognition and a mark of confidence too," explains the trained teacher. "But I can tell you that this only lasted ten seconds, because right after that, you need to come back to the ground.
"I'm here to perform well, to meet the expectations we have as referees, to give my best, and I certainly mustn't be carried away by the event."
Bastien says that his match will have already started when the teams line up ahead of the kick-off. "I'm then focussed, and I think about nothing else but the beginning of the game, about my first decisions. They are critical, because they will be the first image that you convey both to the players and the fans."
Passion and confidence, Bastien stresses, are two key elements to refereeing. "You have to have passion, because that's what drives you forward. If you're passionate, you're going to put a lot into it. If you put a lot into it, you have a better chance of good results and giving yourself a chance of progressing.”
"Referees need confidence, because besides your physical qualities, you need real mental strength. You have to withstand pressure. It requires a great deal of concentration and clear-headedness. If you lose your concentration for one second, that's the moment when something will happen and you'll miss it. If you're confident, you have a better chance of performing at 100%."
Bastien and his team began their preparations before the semi-finals, to ensure that they are ready for the final occasion from the first whistle. This included analysing the teams and players who they will be managing on the field.
"We're surrounded by a team of professionals, both in terms of fitness as well as analysing and preparing for matches," he says. "A lot of work goes into that. We analyse the teams' tactics, the players' characteristics, what the teams do from set pieces, such as corners and free-kicks. Which players come inside, which are on the wing? Are they right-footed or left-footed? It's an important aspect."
Bastien, who began refereeing at the age of 18, joined the French Ligue 1 refereeing elite in 2011 and became an international official in 2014, feels that match officials must also take into account the surprise moments that often happen during the course of a match.
"You have to expect the unexpected. Every game is different - which is what makes football and refereeing so wonderful. I've refereed several hundred matches since becoming a referee, but I've never had identical games …"
Having taught has also given Bastien crucial experience in the vital job of managing players on the pitch.
"Today, management is a major part of the referee's job," he emphasises. "It really is. I would say that it's also what makes the difference between a very good and an excellent referee. It stands for a big part of our job today, to be able to be accepted despite unpopular decisions. This is where you earn a big part of your credibility and quality as a referee."
Benoît Bastien and his proud team are determined to look back on a job well done after the final is over. "After the three final blows of the whistle," he reflects, "if everything went well, then we can be happy."
"This is a moment that we, the referees, all hope to experience after a game. This is what we work for …"