Atilla Karaoğlan is relishing the prospect of ‘a huge experience’ when he takes charge of Friday’s European Under-17 Championship final between Germany and France in Budapest.
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Just five months after gaining his international badge, the 36-year-old Turkish match official considers the big occasion in the Hungarian capital as an important step on his career pathway – and he is eager to enjoy the moment.
“I’m extremely proud, and I’m ready to do my very best,” says Karaoğlan, a physical education teacher and university graduate from Sakarya, an attractive city close to Istanbul. His assignment for the final at the Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium is the crowning achievement for him after a fine tournament.
Tournament referee team in tune
“We’ve learned a lot together,” Karaoğlan says of his time spent in Hungary with a close-knit team of European match officials. “The finals have been a new and different experience, and I’ve picked up knowledge and advice from referees from other countries. We’ve established a great relationship, and everyone has really helped each other.”
The two teams contesting Friday’s final are no strangers to Karaoğlan. He was the man in the middle when Germany beat France 3-1 in a Group C encounter in Balmazújváros earlier in the tournament. “We analyse the teams’ tactics and the players before each match, and it will certainly be a big help to know a lot about the two finalists and how they play,” he reflects.
Karaoğlan entered the world of refereeing as a 19-year-old in 2004. Like many referees, he started out as a player but was encouraged to try refereeing, finding out that he liked the experience. He initially spent six years as an assistant referee, rising to Türkiye’s second and third divisions before choosing to change direction. “I decided that I wanted to be in the middle of the pitch as a referee,” he recalls. “Everything went well from there, and I reached the Turkish top level four years ago.”
Since then, Karaoğlan has raised his profile in Türkiye’s Super League and domestic cup competition, and the international badge he acquired recently has opened up a new refereeing world beyond home. “It’s been a fantastic start to my international career, and this will motivate me to make further progress,” he says about Friday’s appointment.
UEFA’s mentor help
“Humility, Hard Work and Hunger”: The three characteristics identified by Karaoğlan as crucial elements in a referee’s personal datapack. He is grateful to UEFA for giving him the opportunity to take part in the European body’s international referee mentor activities within UEFA’s Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE), in which promising referees are guided and nurtured by experienced former referees as part of their career education and development.
“It’s been extremely worthwhile, and I’ve learned so much thanks to UEFA,” Karaoğlan explains. “We’ve also been fortunate enough at UEFA’s courses to hear presentations from current referees and former officials who have reached the top – you can’t help but profit from such wise advice.”
Professional and committed
Karaoğlan will be accompanied at the Budapest final by assistant referees Mehmet Tuğral (Türkiye) and Milan Šutulović (Serbia), as well as fourth official Miloš Milanović (Serbia). Professional preparation and a mutual commitment to excellence will be key to a perfect refereeing team performance.
“I can’t do my job without my team,” Karaoğlan insists. “It’s an important match for us, and we are taking charge of an important match for the young players. It’s vital that we prepare well – but it’s equally important that we’re able to enjoy the occasion as much as we can.”
In addition, Karaoğlan recognises the need to protect football’s key values of respect and fair play on the field. “Young players who are hopefully starting out on successful careers are looking to win this match, and our task as referees might also be to offer words of advice to them if necessary. It’s crucial that they are able take on board the meaning of respect at this stage.”
Away from the game, Atilla Karaoğlan loves family life above everything else, and his biggest supporters – his wife Miray, his three daughters aged 11, seven and four, and his parents – will watch the action from Hungary unfold on their TV screens on Friday night.
“I’ll be thinking of my family when we line up before the match, I’m determined to be a success for them,” he says. “And along with them, I’ll also be thinking how, in being chosen to referee this final, you can achieve your aspirations…”