Paolo Tagliavento now has two dates circled in bold in his monthly agenda. Already making plans for his tenth wedding anniversary on 30 June, the Italian referee discovered early yesterday he must also prepare for the biggest game of his career.
Saturday's UEFA European Under-21 Championship final "absolutely" represents a watershed match for the 38-year-old official from Terni in Umbria. "I refereed the final of the UEFA Regions' Cup in 2007 but this is very different," Tagliavento told UEFA.com. "I'm very happy and now I'm concentrating on making the day a success. I hope everything will be good."
On the FIFA list since 2007, Tagliavento is hardly a stranger to the big occasion. His 18-day assignment at this U21 tournament in Denmark follows a year in which he acted as an additional assistant referee at the 2010 UEFA Europa League final between Club Atlético de Madrid and Fulham FC, and then refereed his first UEFA Champions League game between Arsenal FC and FK Partizan last December.
If he describes the latter appointment as "a very important match and a very big experience", he affords equal significance to UEFA's referee talents and mentors scheme in which he participated throughout the 2010/11 campaign. "It's a very important programme because you have two people that follow you and help to improve your refereeing."
Tagliavento has been honing that talent ever since taking up the whistle as a 17-year-old. Since assuming Serie A duties for the 2003/04 season, and then being detailed to officiate at UEFA Europa League fixtures and national team qualifiers, he has had to cut his workload as a hairdresser. "Yes, before beginning in Serie A, I was a hairdresser," the father-of-two explained. "I don't have much time for the job because in Italy we have many appointments, many meetings. We only have two or three days a week free so it's not easy to continue."
His energies are instead directed towards self-improvement in his arbiter's role, including at this championship where he forms part of a 16-man team comprising six referees, eight assistants and two fourth officials.
On the field in Jutland he has overseen two games as referee – Denmark-Belarus and England-Czech Republic – and two as fourth official, namely Spain-England and Spain-Belarus. Off it, Tagliavento and his colleagues have received further education from UEFA referee observers at their base in Silkeborg. Referee teams have individual debriefings after each match, before plenary discussions take place the day after games for the benefit of the group.
"This is my first big tournament," Tagliavento said. "I can understand it's important to see not only my situation or my DVD but other situations, because I can learn from every referee. We have spoken about everything at this tournament. We work to learn and after a game someone will speak about our performance and we'll watch on video. With the observers, we have seen each match that we've refereed to improve something and to listen to their advice."
All that experience will be tested at the Aarhus Stadion on Saturday night, his final commission before a certain tenth anniversary celebration in southern Italy. "Today I will do the last training session before the match, and tomorrow [Saturday] morning I will do the briefing with my refereeing team," he said. "We will prepare for the match. Always the important thing is to protect the players that want to play football. And to give and uphold respect."
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