Srdjan Jovanović takes charge of Sunday’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship final - and the Serbian referee is relishing his second major showpiece assignment in two years.
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To be refereeing a second European national team competition final in two years suggests that Srdjan Jovanović is making positive progress along his career path.
The 33-year-old Serbian match official takes charge of Sunday’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship final between Spain and Germany in Udine – and admits that he was positively surprised by his appointment.
“It came as a shock, I must tell you,” the father of three from Belgrade says. “Quite honestly, any of the other referees here in Italy would also have deserved to be appointed for the final.”
Alongside Jovanović, the referee team for the game at the Stadio Friuli comprises two assistant referees and Serbian compatriots in Uroš Stojković and Milan Mihajlović, while Dutchman Serdar Gözübüyük will act as fourth official. The video assistant referee (VAR) team are from the Netherlands – Jochem Kamphuis (VAR) and Bas Nijhuis (assistant VAR), and another Dutch official, Charles Schaap, is the reserve assistant referee.
Jovanović is the youngest member of the referee team at the Under-21 finals, and has gathered invaluable refereeing experience since gaining his international badge at the age of 28 in 2015.
He already has a UEFA final under his belt, having officiated at the European Under-19 Championship showpiece between Portugal and England in Georgia two years ago. More recently, games in the UEFA Europa League group stage, European Qualifiers and UEFA Nations League have kept his refereeing diary full alongside domestic assignments in Serbia.
Jovanović knew that refereeing was for him as a teenager – especially as he would be following in the footsteps of his uncle, Srdjan Jovanović, who himself was a top-flight official in Serbia. “My uncle didn’t even have to persuade me to be a referee,” Jovanović recalls. “I used to enjoy refereeing on small pitches in Belgrade when I was younger, so it was already my passion.”
“I set myself three targets – to referee in the Serbian top league, to be an international referee, and to take charge of a Belgrade derby – I’m hoping that I might referee the derby one day!”
Jovanović has enjoyed the Under-21 final round as part of a tightly-knit refereeing team. “Most of us have been together at UEFA’s VAR courses since last October – so we’ve become close friends – it’s been a real pleasure to work with them along with our excellent technical and fitness teams.”
Preparations for Sunday’s big occasion will not take on any particularly special dimensions. “The next match is always the most important match for a referee, whether it’s a final or not,” Jovanović insists.
“I’m also hoping that the referee team will find time to savour the moment – this will most likely be during the line-up and the anthems before the match, and then we will be turning on our full concentration.”
Focus has never been a problem for Jovanović in any case. “Whether there are 20 people, 20,000 or 50,000 at a match, I find I’m able to block out the crowd and concentrate on my job,” he says, identifying three special characteristics that a modern top-level referee must possess to succeed – “You have to have courage, as well as a special love for football,” he explains. “And you must definitely be yourself, rather than copy others.”
Nevertheless, he names three people, all former Italian referees, as special role models that have been great influences – Roberto Rosetti, Pierluigi Collina and Nicola Rizzoli.
“I’d also like to give Jaap Uilenberg from the Netherlands and Juan Antonio Marin from Spain a special mention – they were referee observers at the Under-19 finals two years ago, and their invaluable guidance and advice helped to me develop further. I took part in talent and mentor courses in Serbia, and they also stood me in good stead in terms of what UEFA expects of a referee.”
Away from refereeing, Jovanović has plenty to occupy his time, thanks to his three sons, aged four, two and three months. “The oldest one is already kicking a UEFA Champions League ball around with his friends,” he says proudly. “So, they are my hobby, if you like, but I do enjoy playing tennis and other ball sports when I have the time.”
Making progress at a young age as a referee means that Jovanović has time ahead to try and achieve his targets – “I’ve hopefully got a long career in front of me, and my dream is to referee in the Champions League, and to be selected for a major senior national team final tournament,” he says.
And finally, what would Srdjan Jovanović tell any youngster who, like himself once upon a time, fancies the idea of taking up refereeing? “Start immediately,” he says. “To be a referee is a huge opportunity….”
Photo: The Under-21 final referee team: Jochem Kamphuis, Charles Schaap, Uroš Stojković, Srdjan Jovanović, Milan Mihajlović, Bas Nijhuis and Serdar Gözübüyük