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Exciting times for Gdańsk referee Turpin

French referee Clément Turpin’s assignment for Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League final between Villareal and Manchester United in Gdańsk is the latest accolade on an outstanding career path that brought domestic and international recognition at a precociously young age for a referee.

 Clément Turpin began refereeing in the French top flight at the age of 26
Clément Turpin began refereeing in the French top flight at the age of 26 AFP via Getty Images

These are memorable times for the 39-year old father of three from the Burgundy region in central France. Following the big occasion in Poland, he will settle down to his preparations for UEFA EURO 2020. Turpin is one of the 18 match officials who, along with their assistants and the video assistant referees, will form the 25th team at the tournament which takes place in 11 cities across Europe from 11 June to 11 July.

Turpin will be accompanied on Wednesday by assistant referees and compatriots Nicolas Danos and Cyril Gringore, and Slovenian fourth official Slavko Vinčić. The video assistant referee role has been assigned to another Frenchman, François Letexier (France), and he will be aided by countrymen Jérôme Brisard and Benjamin Pages. Paulus van Boekel (Netherlands) completes the VAR line-up.

“I feel very proud,” Turpin says of his selection for the Europa League final. “Not only for myself, but also for my assistants, who have accompanied me for a number of years, and for all referees in France.”

‘Culmination of a season’s hard work’

“But I don’t particularly see it as a reward – that makes it sound like you’re giving a present to a child that’s done something well, and I don’t think that UEFA give out presents when they select referees! For me, it’s the culmination of a season, one that has been very intense and very special given the current situation, and one that has involved a lot of hard work as a team.”

Turpin’s road as a referee began when he was a young player and instructor of children at his local football club. “No referees were appointed for the children’s matches,” he recalls, “so instructors and parents refereed the games. I was asked if I’d like to take a refereeing course – I thought ‘why not?’, and it started from there. I continued to play football until the age of 19 – one day of the weekend I was a player, the next a referee. The refereeing side was going well, so from then on, I decided to concentrate on being a referee.”

Clément Turpin (fourth official) receives his medal from UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin after the 2018 UEFA Champions League final.
Clément Turpin (fourth official) receives his medal from UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin after the 2018 UEFA Champions League final.UEFA via Getty Images

His rise through the ranks was impressive, and he set a proud series of records. Turpin graduated to a higher level each year, and eventually became a French top-flight referee at the age of 26 in 2008 – the youngest-ever official in France at the time. In December 2009, he was the youngest Frenchman to earn his international badge, and two years later, he was the first French referee under the age of 30 to take charge of a French Cup final. He was a member of the UEFA EURO 2016 and 2018 FIFA World Cup referee groups, refereed at the 2016 Summer Olympics football tournament in Brazil, and acted as fourth official at the 2018 UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in Kyiv.

“I never said to myself that I would referee a European final one day,” Turpin says with typical modesty. “From the start, I preferred to set myself small targets and challenges along the way. I’ve never had a particular role model as a referee, but I’ve watched other referees and taken little bits of what they do and incorporated them into my own refereeing.”

Clément Turpin has been chosen for the UEFA EURO 2020 referees' team.
Clément Turpin has been chosen for the UEFA EURO 2020 referees' team.UEFA via Getty Images

Courage and calmness

Turpin describes refereeing at the highest levels as “management of extreme situations – extreme because there is pressure, there are a lot of emotions around you. The referee is having to take the correct decisions… not necessarily the most popular decisions. You need to be courageous and be able to ease tension. Calmness breeds calmness in tense and difficult situations.”

He welcomes the opportunity provided to today’s referees to study teams and players as part of their match preparation. “Referees have to love the game,” he reflects. “I don’t think that you can be a referee if you don’t love football – and above all, you have to understand the game. The more you understand the game, how players play, how teams set up, all the characteristics, the better you can read a game as a referee.”

Turpin is already giving back to refereeing in his home region, as a member of the regional refereeing technical team in the Burgundy league. “I’m involved in promoting refereeing in schools and colleges,” he says. “It means I’m working in both the professional and amateur refereeing worlds. It gives me a balance, and I feel great satisfaction to be able to do this work.”

The team matters most…

"Referees have to love the game"
"Referees have to love the game"AFP/Getty Images

Teamwork will be essential for Turpin and his colleagues in Gdańsk on Wednesday. “It’s impossible for a referee to be alone at this level; you need your team alongside you,” he says. “We’ll prepare for the game in the dressing room in our usual way, with music playing in the background. My assistant referee colleague of 11 years, Nicolas Danos, prepares the playlists. He brings new music for every match, and I only ask one thing from him – that the music he brings is calm music!”

Once out on the field, Turpin says he will take a short moment to savour the privilege of his role. “The first thing I’ll think briefly when lining up with my colleagues and the teams is: ‘Wow! I’m really lucky to be here’. Then, it will be complete focus on the match and coming confidently through the important early stages in particular. It’s like a Formula One Grand Prix… you blow the first whistle, you get around the first ‘corner’, and then you’re ready to take the next ‘corner’.”

Following the UEFA Europa League final, Clément Turpin can anticipate new challenges ahead, starting with the EURO. “I’m delighted; it will be an honour and pleasure to be involved on the ‘inside’ of this great tournament and live every day of it.” As for future ambitions, the Frenchman pledges to seek constant further improvement without undue fear of failure. He closes by recalling a quote attributed to the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde: “Shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll end up among the stars…”