As he prepares for the biggest appointment of his refereeing career, Carlos Velasco Carballo's wish is that players and fans alike enjoy the UEFA Europa League final, win or lose.
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Carlos Velasco Carballo reaches a career pinnacle tonight when he referees his first European final – the UEFA Europa League showpiece between FC Porto and SC Braga. In an exclusive interview with UEFA.com, the 40-year-old match official from Madrid speaks about the Dublin Arena assignment and what it means to him.
UEFA.com: Is this the biggest game of your career?
Carlos Velasco Carballo: Without doubt it is the biggest game I'll have refereed, the most high-profile, and it is a dream to be here, to have been selected. I was proud to be chosen to referee the play-off for the Egyptian league championship a couple of years ago – a very different experience from European football. I've also done the Spanish Super Cup and semi-finals in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. I've been fortunate to referee a lot of big games. No World Cups or European Championships so far, but that is what I work for, to reach that level.
UEFA.com: When were you told you were refereeing the final and how did you feel?
Velasco Carballo: They told me on Monday in a phone call. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Unforgettable.
UEFA.com: How will you prepare for the match, both individually and as part of a six-man refereeing team?
Velasco Carballo: One of my main qualities is how I prepare for a game – I watch as many matches as possible of the two teams. I've watched four of each, keeping an eye on tactics, set pieces, how they set up defensively and in attack. Then there's the physical preparation and for a final there's even more to think of. We had a pre-match training session today [Tuesday] and tonight we'll have a meeting where we'll watch some videos. Tomorrow [Wednesday] we have some admin to take care of and then we have a second meeting where we'll focus more on our work as six referees.
UEFA.com: How familiar are you with the ongoing experiment using two additional assistant referees?
Velasco Carballo: I was lucky enough to be involved in the first trials using the system during an Under-19 tournament in Hungary. It's not going to be a problem for me because I've a lot of experience of it. You have to work out a communication system before the match – it has to be short, clear and concise. One or two words only – penalty, nothing, foul. Otherwise, with the crowd noise and six people trying to talk, you get lost. You need quick decisions. You make your decision and you can talk about it later between yourselves.
UEFA.com: How long has it taken you to reach this moment and which milestones have you passed along the way?
Velasco Carballo: I started refereeing at 16 and I've done 24 seasons. Apart from being my parents' son, it is the longest I've done anything for – longer than being a father, husband or engineer. I've done a number of UEFA courses and I'd have to mention the talents and mentors programme I had the privilege of being on 18 months ago. You have two mentors looking after you, working with you, giving you advice. It's a great scheme. I've also been an international referee for three years. After 21 seasons and five years as a Spanish top-flight referee I was delighted to make the list.
UEFA.com: Are you a full-time referee now?
Velasco Carballo: Yes, a year and a half ago I left my job in engineering with a multinational company to dedicate myself full time to refereeing. Top-class football takes up a lot of time, with travelling, preparation, studying teams, training – it's not compatible with a full-time profession. So I've dedicated body and soul to my passion, refereeing.
UEFA.com: What are your hopes for the final and will your family be here to see you?
Velasco Carballo: I'm expecting a lively game, a lot of passion from both teams and their supporters, and two sides striving to win the trophy after doing so well already by getting here. I hope everyone enjoys it, win or lose. My wife is coming to watch the game, but the rest of my family will be at home in Madrid, gathered around the television, supporting me – including my sons, Álvaro and Javier.