Spanish referee Xavier Estrada Fernández says that taking charge of Thursday's UEFA European Under-19 Championship final will be a crucial step on his career ladder.
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Referee Xavier Estrada Fernández is eager to treat the UEFA European Under-19 Championship final as another invaluable learning experience – the latest of many lessons in Hungary.
The Spanish match official will take charge of Thursday's decider between Germany and Portugal in Budapest, the culmination of a successful tournament on and off the pitch. "When you start as a referee, so many years ago, it's unbelievable to think that one day you could be chosen for a final like this," Estrada Fernández told UEFA.com.
"My routine is to work hard every day and to try to learn everything from my colleagues and the observers about the competition and situations with the coaches and players. In every match it's necessary to adapt, in every situation.
"The most important thing for me is that when I go home I'm totally sure that I will be a better referee than the day I arrived here. As you can imagine, to reach the final is so important – not only for me but also for the assistants and the fourth official. All the referees at this tournament have been so professional and I'll go home with a lot of new friends."
Estrada Fernández will work alongside assistant referees Darren England from England and Kazakhstan's Yevgeniy Belskiy, plus fourth official Enea Jorgji, of Albania, at the final. "This has been my first experience working with colleagues from another country and it's been very good," he explained. "You learn their ways, and find what works for you both so you can work together. It's important to discuss how you work before kick-off and have meetings during the week. Every referee knows the laws of the game but it's also their interpretation so you must make sure you follow the same line for 90 minutes."
That thorough approach will include watching both finalists in action, another key element of a referee's preparation. "I've tried to watch as many matches as I can in these finals," Estrada Fernández added. "I've had the chance to referee Germany, not Portugal but I've seen a lot of their DVDs and had chance to see plenty of their match situations and tactical play. That's helped me to perform well."
The final at the Szusza Ferenc Stadium will be the latest landmark in a career that started more than 15 years ago. "I started as a referee when I was 20," the 38-year-old explained. "I like football and played futsal and one day a colleague said 'Why not try to ref some matches?' I thought it could be a good idea, but I was afraid because I obviously had no experience. I still tried it and by the second year it was amazing. I had a lot of friends and I really enjoyed being on the field.
"Step by step I was promoted through our levels in Spain and reached the first division in 2009. I've been an international referee since 2013 and now I've refereed more than 100 matches in the top division, so I have experience and also I try to learn from everybody. It's not just reaching the top; it's performing when you get there so that you stay there."