"Referees wait for this moment", says Italian official Gianluca Rocchi of his appointment to take charge of Tuesday's UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Manchester United in Skopje.
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Top referees relish the big occasion as much as players – especially if a packed stadium provides an exciting atmosphere for a showpiece match such as the UEFA Super Cup game that heralds the start of each new club competition season.
Italy’s Gianluca Rocchi is delighted at his selection to take charge of Tuesday’s encounter between Real Madrid and Manchester United in Skopje. The full house awaiting last season’s UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europe League winners will hold no fears for the 43-year-old match official.
“I find it easier to referee a match in front of a big crowd than in an empty stadium,” says Florence-born Rocchi, a married father of two young boys. “If no-one is in the stadium, you hear everything that everyone says…”
Rocchi will be accompanied in Skopje by five compatriots: assistant referees Elenito Di Liberatore and Mauro Tonolini, additional assistant referees Davide Massa and Massimiliano Irrati, and reserve official Riccardo Di Fiore. France's Clément Turpin will act as the fourth official.
“If you receive an assignment for a final, it is a surprise, and a pleasant one,” says Rocchi, who has been on the international list since 2008. “Referees wait for this moment, and certainly I feel proud that UEFA appointed me for this big game.” One major final is already behind Rocchi, who acted as fourth official at May’s UEFA Europa League final between Manchester United and Ajax in Stockholm. He follows in the footsteps of another Italian referee, the late Stefano Farina, who took charge of the 2006 Super Cup match between Barcelona and Sevilla.
Rocchi started refereeing at 15, and progressed through the ranks in Italy to join the Serie A and B list in 2003. “I wasn’t a very good footballer to be honest, but I enjoyed playing,” he reflects. “The decision to change wasn’t that easy, but I wanted to do something else within football.”
Finding the right balance between focus and relaxation is key to Rocchi’s preparations for any assignment. He is a keen fan of the British band Coldplay, and attended a recent concert in Milan. “Music is never far away in my life,” he says, “and I like music in the dressing room and to relax when I have a free moment.”
Rocchi describes the time when the referees and teams line up before a big game as “the best moment of a match in some ways. You realise the importance of what is to come, and you have a short time to appreciate the occasion – but it is only a short time, because you then return to being fully concentrated on the match.”
Good positioning in the early minutes – helped by diligent pre-match preparation about teams, their tactics and their players – gives Rocchi confidence for the match ahead. “If I’m positioned well, it means that I’m understanding how the teams and players are playing,” he explains.
“I also like my colleagues in the referee team to tell me if I need to improve anything – you can’t referee well without teamwork, and I feel that it’s good to be honest with each other.”
Rocchi finds it easy to get away from the pressures of refereeing. “My wife Paola actually doesn’t like football that much! So I’m able to spend quality time outside football with her, my family and friends – we find lots of other things to talk about, rather than football!”
With the Super Cup match the latest key moment in a distinguished career, Rocchi’s ambitions for the future are simple. “I just think about refereeing the next match. I try not to think too much about the future, because you can’t predict what is around the corner.”
“But I do have one hope for the future – that I will be thought of as a good person, and not just as a good referee…”