‘Refereeing is happiness’ – Porto final referee Mateu Lahoz
Friday, 28 May 2021
“Every moment I live as a referee is incredible…” UEFA Champions League final referee Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz succinctly sums up the joy he feels in his job at football’s highest level.
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Saturday's eagerly awaited encounter bringing together Manchester City and Chelsea in Porto is an experience which the 44-year-old father of two intends to savour to the full.
“It’s magical,” says Mateu Lahoz, who was born in Algímia d’Alfara, a village in Valencia Province on Spain’s eastern coast. “Honestly, I never really imagined that, one day, I would referee a Champions League final.” An international referee since 2011, he already has experience of European club football’s biggest occasion, having acted as fourth official at the 2019 final between Liverpool and Tottenham in Madrid. In a few weeks’ time, Mateu Lahoz will also be among the 18 referees that make up the 25th team at UEFA EURO 2020.
Mateu Lahoz comes from a close-knit village family background – he has two brothers and three sisters. “Other members of the family don’t particularly like football, although my elder brother does – he was a big influence in encouraging me to be a referee,” he reflects. “But my mother, the captain of our ‘family team’, always follows me. She watches my matches very closely... if she sees that I’m smiling before a match, she’s happy, and she always looks at my face after the final whistle. If everything has gone well, then she’s relieved for me. I feel the support of my family, and it helps give me an important balance.”
One important person in Mateu Lahoz’s life will definitely occupy his thoughts on Saturday, especially at the moment when the two teams line up ahead of the match… his father, who died when his son was a youngster. “I'll look up and think of him,” he says. “I feel that I've had the good luck to be healthy and fit that he didn’t have. I feel that he's protecting me all the time. This is a special feeling. He pushed me and encouraged me. ‘Come on, you can… if you want it, you can get it,’ he would say. I know he's always behind me.”
Mateu Lahoz, who began refereeing in Spain’s La Liga in 2008, tries to bring his personality into play when he is the man in the middle. “Refereeing is happiness for me,” he explains. “And I think the key to being a referee is to always be yourself. When you referee a match, you're taking charge of many different personalities. You’re part of the game, and I think that part of your job is trying to help the players and coaches. If you can do this and be relaxed, then you'll relax them, you can communicate together, and making decisions can be much easier.”
At the final, Mateu Lahoz will be assisted by countrymen Pau Cebrián Devis and Roberto Díaz Pérez del Palomar, while another Spaniard, Carlos del Cerro Grande, will be fourth official. The video assistant referee (VAR) role has been assigned to Alejandro José Hernández Hernández (Spain), and he will be accompanied by compatriots Juan Martínez Munuera and Íñigo Prieto López de Cerain. Pawel Gil (Poland) completes the VAR line-up.
The team comes first
Mateu Lahoz rates the relationship with his team as something that is quite unique. “It would have been impossible for me to arrive at this stage without my team,” he insists. “We talk to each other, we encourage each other, we trust each other, we all know each other’s strengths. At the final, when we come out of the dressing room together and go onto the pitch to warm up – that will be the moment when we look into each other’s eyes and say to each other ‘we’re really here... come on, let’s enjoy the moment, and let’s then have the best possible match.’”
“In fact, you could look at it this way – a football team has 11 players… and we'll have our own 11-man refereeing team – the referee, two assistants, a fourth official, four colleagues involved within the video assistant referee (VAR) system, technicians, a monitor. Eleven people in our team, involved in a special situation and determined to do their very best…”
Mateu Lahoz also credits the tactical and technical preparation provided by UEFA to the top referees as a crucial factor in helping referees’ performances. “I do feel that if you prepare in this way, you’re able to anticipate situations, how teams play, how players react, and it does make the job easier, because you won’t be surprised as much. I find that giving referees the chance to study teams is an excellent element of preparation.”
How does Mateu Lahoz relax away from the big-match limelight? “Nowadays, I try to see life through the eyes of my children,” he says, thinking of his two sons, aged eight and four. “As a referee, you do spend a lot of time away, so my free time is spent with my family, and I want to help my children live in the best possible way.”
On the field, Saturday’s big occasion at Porto's Estádio do Dragão will be followed by the thrill of being at the very heart of the action at UEFA EURO 2020. “It’s the first EURO for me and my team,” he reflects. “It’s another gift for us to be at this great tournament, learning from and sharing with colleagues. We’re excited to spend another summer involved in something that is important for us. I’m very happy.”
A physical education teacher before refereeing took priority – “my older sister was a teacher; she influenced me to go that way” – Mateu Lahoz can see himself returning to the profession after retirement as a referee. “I like to teach, and like to learn,” he says. Another strand of teaching he can envisage is giving back to refereeing by continuing to help young match officials learn their trade. “It’s good to pass on the experience that you’ve gained to younger referees. I like helping my colleagues in this way.”
Before all this, Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz still has a great deal of refereeing ahead of him, starting with his Porto assignment, and with the EURO experience following on behind in a couple of weeks. Challenges for him to relish and remember forever. “As I’ve said, refereeing is happiness,” he emphasises. “I try to smile and do my best. I’m very lucky doing something that I love. And when your job is a passion, it’s impossible to ask for more…”