Felix Brych was the fourth official at last season's UEFA Europa League final and will be the man in the middle in Turin today – "the most important game" of his career and vindication for his step-by-step approach.
"When you start refereeing, you create new goals every step of the way," the referee from Munich told UEFA.com on the eve of the 2014 decider. "First you want to be one of the top referees in your region, then you want to be in the Bundesliga, then you want to be a FIFA referee. Once you're a FIFA referee, you begin to think about finals. Last year, I was fourth official for the final and of course the next step is to be in the middle."
That is exactly where Brych will be when Sevilla FC take on SL Benfica, and while it represents "the next step", he is confident that the two decades it took him to reach this stage mean he will be on terra firma. "Experience is vital for a game like this – you couldn't do it in the early stages of your career. I have something like 50 European matches to draw on, from all across Europe. You have to be physically fit and mentally strong, but experience is perhaps the biggest thing for games like this."
Brych cuts an assured figure as he surveys the scene from the mouth of the tunnel at the compact Juventus Stadium, its steep terracing meaning fans will be on top of the action this evening. He draws on that experience, and relates it to something he knows. "This is my first time here, but stadiums like these are typical for Germany, especially after the World Cup, so I'm used to this kind of setup," he says. "There won't be any surprises for me in that respect."
The 38-year-old has been studying the teams and players to ensure there are no shocks there, though he has learned to expect the unexpected. He was notably caught off-guard when his mobile phone rang as he was checking into a hotel ahead of a Bundesliga assignment. The voice on the other end, belonging to UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina, told him he had been selected for Turin.
It was the latest episode in a career which began with a disappointment. "I used to play and had an injury at the age of 18 but I always had interest in refereeing – I don't know why," Brych says. "Whenever I could, I always tried to do official matches at school – games between classes. It was always a special interest so when I got injured, I got the licence – an obvious first step." The first of many.
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