U21 EURO final referee Szymon Marciniak tells UEFA.com about his transformation from fiery young midfielder to one of Europe's most promising match officials.
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Szymon Marciniak was once a fiery young midfielder with Polish top-flight club Wisla Plock and was, in his own words, "a difficult player to referee".
Times have certainly changed for the 34-year-old poacher-turned-gamekeeper, who on Tuesday will have his first taste of a European final when refereeing the U21 EURO final between Sweden and Portugal.
It is an honour that represents another rung on the ladder for Marciniak, who officiated the 2014 Polish Cup final before receiving his first taste of the UEFA Champions League in the season just gone. He sat down with UEFA.com to discuss his transformation from "crazy" footballer to highly promising young referee.
UEFA.com: How does it help you having been a footballer yourself?
Szymon Marciniak: It helps being a former player, for sure. I was a leader, playing in central midfield, and was a crazy player to be honest. If you'd asked me many years ago if I'd like to become a referee, I'd have replied: 'Absolutely not'. I was a difficult player to referee. This makes it much easier for me now to have good relationships with troublemakers on the pitch because I was the same. It helps me know what I should say or do in some situations – sometimes I just do nothing because I know a player's frustration can be so high it is better not to say anything and then after a short while make a joke or say something funny.
UEFA.com: How did you become a referee?
Marciniak: I started refereeing in 2002. At the beginning I was still a player, in the fourth division, but I knew it would be very difficult to achieve success as a big player. I got promoted very quickly as a referee because they had a special pathway for former players – a lot of referees had retired and they needed young referees so it was a big chance for me.
UEFA.com: What were your first steps as an international referee?
Marciniak: My career started with the UEFA CORE [Centre of Refereeing Excellence] training programme. One referee from Poland got invited and fortunately it was me. This was the most important thing for me, working with David Elleray – he has been the most important person for my career so far and we are still in contact now. When I started with CORE, I thought I could referee but when you go to a UEFA competition it is a totally different world.
UEFA.com: You began this season with your first taste of the UEFA Champions League and are ending it with a first European final. How do you reflect on your progress?
Marciniak: When I said many years ago that I would referee a World Cup final, a lot of referees laughed at me but last year I had my Champions League debut at Juventus-Malmö and people said, 'Maybe he wasn't joking'. This year has been brilliant – my debut in the Champions League is a game I will always remember. It was such a huge experience and I had three in total in the Champions League as well as four in the Europa League. Now I've got an U21 final, which is a huge step. This year is really important but we have to remember that next year is another great tournament – every referee dreams of going to EURO 2016 in France and it's also my target.
UEFA.com: How have you found this experience at the U21 EURO?
Marciniak: These international games have something special; every one gives us more experience. The refereeing in this tournament so far has been very good – nobody has spoken about the referees so that means it must have been good. I've not had any difficulties, I've just enjoyed it, used my experience and it's worked.
UEFA.com: And how did you feel to be selected for this match?
Marciniak: I was proud of myself and my team – it is not just me, we are strong as a team. We support each other a lot and this is something I have to stress.
UEFA.com: Finally, there aren't many referees who've done both the opening match and the final, are there?
Marciniak: I know one referee who did it. It was Paweł Raczkowski who is our first additional referee here and who refereed the U17s final tournament last month. He opened the tournament and he finished it. We were joking that because of him I would not be getting the final but it's great to start and finish like this because it happens so rarely.