Damir Skomina will reach an historic milestone when he referees Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool – and the Slovenian says there are still targets to be achieved.
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Damir Skomina didn't set fixed goals for himself when he started out on his refereeing journey as a teenager – but his road has now brought him a prestigious 'treble' at European club level.
When the 42-year-old Slovenian takes charge of Saturday's UEFA Champions League final in Madrid between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, Skomina will complete a full set of major European club final appointments.
An international referee since 2002, Skomina officiated at the UEFA Europa League final between Ajax and Manchester United in 2017, as well as the UEFA Super Cup match between Chelsea and Atlético de Madrid in 2012. He also acted as fourth official at the 2013 UEFA Champions League final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich.
"I didn't set myself these targets," says Skomina, a father of two from Koper, on Slovenia's Adriatic coast, close to the borders with Italy and Croatia. "But I feel I've worked very hard over the years to get this far. I'm hugely proud of being chosen for this match."
Skomina began refereeing in 1992 at the age of 15. "I played football, but was told by doctors at the time to stop because they thought I had a health problem. So, I started refereeing as a way of staying in football. A few years later, I had another medical exam, and was told that everything was fine – so I was free to continue refereeing."
His path now leads him to the eagerly anticipated all-English encounter at Madrid's Estadio Metropolitano, where he will be assisted by his compatriots Jure Praprotnik and Robert Vukan. The fourth official is Antonio Mateu Lahoz from Spain.
Skomina says that he never had any idols – "you must be yourself," he insists – but cites UEFA refereeing officer and fellow Slovenian Vlado Šajn and Italy's distinguished former referee Pierluigi Collina as people who have given him special guidance along the way.
Strong focus and self-belief are characteristics that have helped Skomina enjoy such a successful career. That focus will switch on in the run-up to the match. "By the time we line up with the teams, I'll be totally concentrated on the game," he says. "In fact, it won't be until I look at the match the next day that I'll finally fully notice all of the pre-match activities."
The experience gathered over the years will doubtless stand Skomina in good stead. "I won't put too much pressure on myself ahead of the game; it's important for us as a referee team not to stress. We'll have some music playing in the background in the dressing-room, and we'll all go through our normal preparations."
Skomina says that the changes in top-class football have made it essential for today's top referees to live, prepare and train like athletes. "The players are getting quicker, the speed of the game is faster," he reflects.
"And each season, referees get older by another year – so you must be ready to adapt and work hard. I'm grateful to [UEFA referee fitness expert] Werner Helsen for his help and guidance in preparing me for matches like this."
Living on the Adriatic coast gives Skomina and his family, including his two sons of 13 and ten – who will be attentive spectators at the final – plenty of scope for rest and recreation. "I like the sea, and our surroundings help me to relax," he says.
Nor does getting the European club final 'treble' as a referee mean that Skomina will rest on his laurels, satisfied with his achievements. "The next game is this final on 1 June – and then comes an assignment in the European Qualifiers soon afterwards – and that match will then become my next 'final'," he emphasises. "I still have a few years in front of me as a referee – there are still targets and hard work ahead. There's no way that after the match in Madrid, I could ever think to myself: 'I've done it all now'."