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Europa Conference League final referee Soares Dias' long journey to the top

Portugal's Artur Soares Dias reflects on the "brilliant honour" of refereeing as he prepares for a major milestone in his impressive career.

AFP via Getty Images

One of either Olympiacos or Fiorentina will end their wait for European silverware at Wednesday’s UEFA Europa Conference League final, but the occasion has also been a long time coming for match referee Artur Soares Dias.

It will be the first time Soares Dias has taken charge of a UEFA club final, the culmination of a refereeing journey that began almost three decades ago.

"I have worked for 28 years to reach a major final like this – being a referee is the same as a player, a final is a final and we all want to be there," said the Portuguese official.

"It was an unbelievable phone call to receive because we all work hard to reach this level. My reaction was a mix of nervousness, responsibility, honour and the feeling of achieving a dream. Of course, once you digest the news, you have to focus yourself because like any match, you need to be fit and ready, psychologically calm and stable."

Soares Dias refereeing at UEFA EURO 2020
Soares Dias refereeing at UEFA EURO 2020UEFA via Getty Images

Soares Dias has been refereeing since he was 17, making his debut in Portugal’s top division within eight years and becoming a FIFA international referee at 30 in 2010. This summer, he will officiate at his second UEFA EURO and was also among the referees at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but Wednesday will be his first experience as the man in the middle of a major European final.

The moment takes on extra poignance for the 44-year-old, whose father Manuel was also a referee prior to his passing in 2009.

"The first person I called when I heard the news was my mother, because it's a moment to remember my father and the advice he gave me," Soares Dias explained. "He was one of the reasons that I wanted to be a referee and I am sure he is very proud of me considering this achievement."

Soares Dias is also eager to recognise others in the game who have helped him on his journey.

"It is very important to underline that this achievement is not just one for myself, there is a big team behind me who works with me to reach this level," he explained. "There are my assistant referees, of course, but also fourth officials, the VARs, the Portuguese Football Federation (FPF) and referees committee, and our physios, for example. All of those people help me to reach this final, so this success is for many people, not just myself."

UEFA's Be a Referee! campaign aims to recruit match officials across Europe

Over the past year, the FPF has led the way in attracting new referees as part of UEFA's 'Be a Referee!' campaign, which aims to recruit 40,000 new officials across Europe each season. As he prepares for Wednesday night's assignment in Athens, Soares Dias reflects on his own path and considers the qualities needed to be a top official in the modern game.

"Referees need a lot of qualities to reach the highest level. Integrity, a strong personality, leadership and communication are all important for managing a game, as well as a thick skin," he said.

"To be at the centre of a match as a referee is a brilliant honour, but I remember my first game, being afraid to go onto the pitch. I was nervous and worried about making decisions, but everything improved over time, and I became more confident.

"As a young referee, if you have a big dream and you can define your objectives and targets, how to get there, and then work hard and don't give up, you can go a long way."

The journey to the top has been a long one for Soares Dias, but on Wednesday at the AEK Arena, his hard work and patience will receive their long-awaited reward.

UEFA Europa Conference League Final refereeing team

Referee: Artur Soares Dias (Portugal)
Assistants: Paulo Soares and Pedro Ribeiro (both Portugal)
Fourth official: Glenn Nyberg (Sweden)
Reserve AR: Mahbod Beigi (Sweden)
VAR: Tiago Martins (Portugal)
Assistant VAR: Christian Dingert (Germany)
VAR Support: Marco Fritz (Germany)