Former Romanian star Cristian Chivu is seeing another side of football in his role as a UEFA technical observer, with the UEFA Europa League final next on his assignment list.
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As a tough defender, Cristian Chivu scaled considerable heights. This season, UEFA has given him the chance to enhance his knowledge of the game even more by working as a technical observer.
His first campaign in this new role culminates in him taking an observer's seat at Wednesday's UEFA Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United in Stockholm.
The occasion will be particularly special, because the 36-year-old Romanian spent four years with Ajax, from 1999 to 2003.
Chivu enjoyed a distinguished career with FC Universitatea Craiova, Ajax, Roma and Internazionale – with whom he captured the UEFA Champions League title in 2010 – and won 75 caps for Romania.
He was Romanian Football of the Year in 2002, 2009 and 2010, and won the Dutch Golden Shoe in 2002 – the same year that he was selected in UEFA.com's users' Team of the Year.
This season, Chivu is part of a dedicated team of UEFA technical observers, working alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, coaches Mixu Paatelainen and Thomas Schaaf, Polish FA (PZPN) sporting director Stefan Majewski and Chivu's former Inter team-mate Dejan Stanković, who also works for UEFA as a football development advisor.
UEFA's technical observers identify team shapes and tactics, as well as key players and coaching points, and note interesting moments of play. They provide details and descriptions of all goals and any other miscellaneous talking points.
At the final, the whole group will pick the man of the match, before then meeting and discussing the season as a whole, and picking the 18-man UEFA Europa League squad of the tournament and the ten best goals. Their collective findings are published in UEFA's technical report for the competition's season.
"For me it's a new challenge, a new experience," Chivu told UEFA.org. "I have the possibility to think in a different way – as a player, for example, the coach would give us all the information about the opposition. Now, I have to think about both teams myself, and it means I have to watch matches with great focus."
Does a technical observer look differently at a match than a fan? "Quite definitely," says Chivu. "As a fan, you're looking at what the team you are cheering for is doing. As a technical observer, you watch the two teams.
"The observer has the opportunity to look at what a coach is thinking, how he reacts to difficulties that his team may have during a match. It's really interesting, because I enjoy trying to match my thoughts with those of the coach, to see if he is thinking like me!"
Has Chivu noticed any particular tactical trends in his work this season? In his opinion, one item of interest concerns defensive line-ups. "Everyone has been saying that playing with a back line of four defenders, rather than three, is the winning way – but Juventus have reached the UEFA Champions League final playing with three. It will be interesting to see if they continue this in Cardiff."
His favourite match as an observer so far? The thrilling UEFA Europa League round of 16 first leg between Olympique Lyonnais and Roma in March. "Lyon were 2-1 down after the first half, but staged an impressive comeback to win 4-2 – and this against an Italian team! It was great to watch."
Chivu has watched both UEFA Europa League finalists this season as part of his UEFA technical remit. He expects a close-fought tussle at the Friends Arena.
"It's a great achievement for Ajax to reach a final again," he reflects. "It's a young team, and everyone is very proud. This team plays great football.
"Manchester United also have young players, but they are an experienced team that are used to these kind of occasions. It's going to be a nice game to watch, I'm sure of that!"