Italian match official Daniele Orsato fulfills a lifelong ambition when he takes charge of Sunday's UEFA Champions League final.
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In any walk of life, fulfilling a cherished ambition brings a feeling of enduring joy and satisfaction. It’s a feeling that Italian referee Daniele Orsato is experiencing at the moment as he prepares for the biggest assignment of his refereeing career.
The 44-year-old father of two from Recoaro Terme, a small town of some 6,000 inhabitants in Vicenza province in north-eastern Italy, will achieve a lifelong dream when he takes charge of Sunday’s eagerly awaited UEFA Champions League final between Paris Saint-German and Bayern Munich in Lisbon.
“You dream about these moments coming in your career,” Orsato reflects. “And for me, the dream of a lifetime – to referee an international final, and the UEFA Champions League final at that – has come true. The first feeling I had when [UEFA Referees Committee chairman] Roberto Rosetti called me to tell me I'd been chosen was one of great excitement.”
Sunday’s big game at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica is Orsato’s reward for the years of hard work and dedication that began when he decided as a teenager that refereeing would be his chosen path. “I was 18,” he recalls. “I played football, but I wasn’t the greatest of players! A friend of mine suggested that I try refereeing – and that’s when my story started.”
The adventure so far has taken the trained electrician from local football in his native area – known for its mineral spring waters and thermal spa – through the tough apprenticeship of Italy’s Serie A to the European and world stage after gaining his FIFA international badge in 2010. Orsato – a keen cyclist who enjoys playing tennis and volleyball – has taken the road with humility. “I think humility is a great characteristic for a referee to have,” he explains. “It means that you always keep the desire to work hard and improve your standards.”
Italy has produced referees of the highest calibre over the years, and Orsato says that he's been influenced by all of the officials he's watched and met. “One particular role model was Luigi Agnolin – he had great character and personality,” he says. It’s a matter of personal pride to Orsato that he'll be following in Agnolin’s distinguished footsteps on Sunday. 'Gigi', as Agnolin was known, refereed the 1988 European Champion Clubs’ Cup final between PSV Eindhoven and Benfica in Stuttgart.
Protecting football’s image
In addition to humility, Orsato feels that referees need other special qualities to be successful at their ‘trade’. “You have to have the desire to learn and study refereeing,” he says. “You must also be prepared to make sacrifices if you want to make progress – and you must never be satisfied; it’s vital to keep wanting to get better.” Protecting football’s image on the field is another duty for modern-day officials. “We enforce the laws, and we protect the players,” Orsato adds. “We feel very responsible for this inside the game.”
Italy suffered particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across Europe and beyond, and Orsato was grateful during the difficult days of lockdown not only for the personal support of his wife Laura and children Gabriel and William, but also for the opportunity to maintain his fitness thanks to the special training programme drawn up by UEFA. “I read a lot and played with my children during that time,” Orsato remembers. “And I was able to use a treadmill at home. UEFA really helped us to stay fit and in shape with their programme – we were extremely fortunate to have the high-quality support of [Belgian sports scientist] Werner Helsen and his team, because it brought a certain sense of normality to our refereeing activities.”
The continuing effects of COVID-19 means that Sunday’s big occasion in Lisbon will be played without spectators – a situation that Orsato regrets like every other lover of football, but which he accepts phlegmatically. “It’s a difficult situation, both for players and referees, because crowds provide you with adrenalin,” he reflects. “You miss the fans’ passion, it’s clear. What it means for a referee is that you must make sure that you maintain high levels of focus and concentration at all times.”
Teamwork – and friendship
Orsato and his refereeing team are counting down the hours until Sunday’s kick-off. The team’s close bond shines through at this key moment in their careers, and Orsato joins his assistant referees, compatriots Lorenzo Manganelli and Alessandro Giallatini, in relishing the challenge. “We've a terrific relationship, we’re great friends,” Orsato says. “We study every detail together and support each other on and off the field.”
The dream that Orsato had on his refereeing path will gain in intensity when the teams and officials line up ahead of the kick-off. “I’ll have the Champions League anthem in my ears, and I’ll be looking up to the sky and thinking of a dear friend that has passed away,” he says. “And I’ll also be thinking of my family – they’ve been my strength in everything I’ve done.”
Sunday in Lisbon will be an unforgettable occasion when Daniele Orsato’s dream becomes reality. He advises any youngster who wants to referee to emulate him and follow their dream.
“Being a football referee makes you stronger temperamentally,” he says. “You learn to make decisions under pressure, and you become more responsible and strong in the face of real problems in life. I’m extremely thankful that refereeing has given me the chance to gather so much personal experience and learn so much…”