Preparing to take charge of Saturday's UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff, German referee Felix Brych explains that he was bitten by the refereeing bug in his schooldays.
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The man-management skills demanded of today's top-level referees will stand Felix Brych in good stead when he takes charge of Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Juventus and Real Madrid in Cardiff.
The 41-year-old German is delighted to be awaiting his second assignment in a major European club competition final, after officiating at the 2014 UEFA Europa League final between Sevilla and Benfica in Turin.
"You don't just have to be fit and well-prepared to referee at this level – managing people is also one of the important aspects of refereeing a match," says Brych, a doctor in law from Munich. "You're working together with 22 players and other people, all of whom have different characters, and you must be able to connect with these different characters."
Brych will be accompanied at the National Stadium of Wales by several compatriots – assistant referees Mark Borsch and Stefan Lupp, additional assistant referees Bastian Dankert and Marco Fritz, and reserve assistant referee Rafael Foltyn. The team is completed by fourth official Milorad Mažić from Serbia.
"Teamwork is crucial for referees, and the fact that we have worked together for many years is a huge benefit," Brych explains. "It means that we know how each one of us reacts – we not only help each other to take the right decisions, but we also give confidence and encouragement to each other."
Brych started refereeing in the German Bundesliga in 2004 and joined the international list in 2007. He became a referee at the age of 18, and feels that he had an affinity for the job even before then.
"I was a player, but I suffered a serious injury, so I took up refereeing," he recalls. "But I had already refereed class matches at school, so I think I had a feeling for refereeing right from an early stage.
"I have never actually had any great role models as a referee, although I would always pay attention to how the top referees handled matches when I watched them on TV when I was younger. I have never copied – it was important to develop my own personality."
Brych stresses that refereeing was crucial in his own personal development. "Being a referee has had a big influence on my life," he says. "It has helped me grow as a person, because you learn management skills, as well as how to look after yourself and stay fit."
He is also extremely conscious of the referee's role in upholding the Laws of the Game and protecting players on the field. "I think that everybody involved in football has the responsibility to care for the image of the game," Brych emphasises.
As a youngster, Brych would watch UEFA Champions League games and feel the excitement in the run-up to the kick-off. In Cardiff, total concentration will be the order of the day when he lines up with the teams.
"When we're all together on the pitch and the Champions League theme is playing, I will be focussing fully on the match to come, along with my team," he explains. "We'll be determined to make a good start to the game – because, like a player, it gives you confidence when the ball runs kindly for you in the early minutes.
"It's an honour to be chosen for the biggest game in European club football, and I’m very much looking forward to it."