Much like the players who grace the finely manicured turf of the Santiago Bernabéu, Real Madrid CF groundsman Paul Burgess is meticulous, passionate and dedicated about his profession.
Indeed, Burgess has earned a reputation as a master of his art, taking him from the lower echelons of English football to serving arguably the world's most celebrated club. After starting out at Blackpool FC, the Englishman joined Arsenal FC as an 18-year-old in 1996 and was named Premier League groundsman of the year on three occasions during 13 years in north London. Burgess was subsequently snapped up by the Merengues in 2009 and has flourished amid an unrelenting schedule.
"It's totally different from Arsenal as Arsenal was totally different from Blackpool. It's been a new challenge with the weather, size of the stadium and the club," he said. "When I was working at Arsenal I was only taking care of the stadium, but now I'm in charge of the whole training centre, which is huge. We've got 17 teams to try and keep happy every day, so it's a challenge and demanding but we're pretty happy with how things are going."
Currently, Burgess is working around the clock to get the Colovray Stadium surface in Nyon in tip-top condition for the UEFA Youth League semi-finals on 11 April, with Madrid facing SL Benfica three hours before FC Barcelona tackle FC Schalke 04. "It's different [to looking after the Santiago Bernabéu]. These academies from Madrid, Barcelona, Benfica and Schalke – they're all playing on professional pitches, with lots of money being spent on the training centres, so there's a bit of pressure to bring this up to that level," he explained.
With the UEFA Youth League final being held three days later on 14 April, Burgess and his team face a formidable task – and nothing is being left to chance. "The semi-finals will be the most demanding day with two games on the same day. And if there's some difficult weather, it can damage the pitch – that's one of the concerns with everyone involved in the project.
"We're bringing in a rain cover so if we have a lot of rain the day before, we can make sure the field is covered and stays dry, so at least we can play the semi-finals on a firm dry surface," said Burgess, who is savouring the opportunity to make his mark in Nyon.
"It's great having Madrid in this competition and if we win it, I can say I contributed to them winning it," he enthused. "It's nice bringing big teams to a small town as well. Nyon is already on the map because of UEFA but for it to be staging these games is great."
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