The challenge of refereeing a UEFA Champions League final holds no fears for Frenchman Clément Turpin. And, with Saturday’s big game between Liverpool and Real Madrid taking place at the Stade de France in Paris, he’ll be very close to home and, as he says, ‘living the moment’.
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“I’ve refereed two French Cup finals at the Stade de France,” the 39-year-old Burgundy-based official reflects. “Anyone in France who loves our game considers it as the “French football church”, because France won the World Cup there in 1998 – the national team’s first-ever major trophy. It’s a special place, to be sure.”
Turpin goes to Paris with a fierce determination to do well on home soil and buoyed with confidence after a memorable spell that began with his appointment for the Champions League showpiece, soon followed by selection for the team of referees who will officiate at the World Cup in Qatar later this year.
“I feel privileged,” the father of three says. “I’ve achieved two of the biggest dreams that a referee can have. I think it’s important to believe that you have a star above your head, as we say – at the moment, it feels like there’s an entire constellation of stars above me!”
Turpin will be assisted by countrymen Nicolas Danos and Cyril Gringore, while another Frenchman, Benoît Bastien, will be fourth official. The VAR role has been assigned to Jérôme Brisard (France), and he will be assisted by Willy Delajod (France) and two Italians, Massimiliano Irrati and Filippo Meli.
He feels that Saturday’s assignment is a reward for the team, in particular his assistants Danos and Gringore. The trio are no strangers to big European club occasions, having latterly seen service at last season’s UEFA Europa League final between Villarreal and Manchester United in Gdańsk.
Teamwork has taken them on a long, successful road. “We’ve been together for many years; we’re a family – and like any family, we’ve experienced highs and lows,” Turpin says. “We’re very strong together. It’s a fantastic challenge to be chosen for this match, and we’ll prepare in our normal concentrated way. It would be a mistake to change any of the normal routine.”
Turpin’s refereeing career kicked off 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 says, “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.”
Records would begin arriving along that career path as Turpin moved from level to level. He 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.
Turpin has also been a member of the referee teams at the UEFA EURO 2016 and 2020 final tournaments, as well as at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. He 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 before earning last year’s UEFA Europa League final assignment. This season, he has handled seven UEFA Champions League matches as of the play-off round, including Real Madrid's quarter-final first leg against Chelsea.
He emphasises that these experiences, especially the final in Gdańsk last year, will stand him in good stead at the Stade de France. “This is the result of a long process,” Turpin reflects. “I’ve always taken my career step by step, gathering experience along the way, and setting myself small targets and challenges. Because of these past experiences, we will certainly feel more comfortable for the Champions League final – we know how such big events are organised, and it will be easier for us to be focused.”
Management and courage
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."
“The life of a referee revolves around being ready to take decisions, being confident and being natural. You have to understand the game – the more you do, the better you can read a game as a referee.”
To referee is to glean considerable experience of life – a viewpoint to which Turpin fully subscribes. “When you are a referee, I think it’s fair to say that you grow up quicker in many ways,” he explains. “Take a young person in their teenage years – at that moment, they most likely don’t take that many decisions. But when you’re a referee at that age, and you’re taking charge of a match, you’re obliged to take decisions. It’s definitely a fantastic learning experience to be a referee.”
Turpin will have his own fan club making the short trip to Paris and cheering him on in the stands on Saturday – his wife and three children, parents, brother – and the instructor who was at his side when he first took up refereeing at 16. “We have kept in contact, and there’s still an exchange of feedback and advice between us. This long friendship has helped me to keep my feet on the ground, because it reminds me of where I’ve come from.”
Dare to be a referee
Clément Turpin is already giving back to refereeing, making use of the vast experience he has collected by managing instructors for the younger referees in the Burgundy league.
And, to those thinking of taking up refereeing, the modest and dedicated top referee has one simple but effective word of advice: “Dare – dare to try…dare to make mistakes…dare to be courageous…because in the end, you will come out the winner.” He also remembers 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…”