Cüneyt Çakır is looking forward to a "European football celebration" when he referees the UEFA Champions League final, with the Berlin assignment "something to be proud of".
"What I'm going to do is wait for the Champions League anthem to play and then simply enjoy the moment." Turkish referee Cüneyt Çakır is ready for what he hopes will be "a European football celebration" when he takes charge of Saturday's UEFA Champions League final between Juventus and FC Barcelona in Berlin.
Nevertheless, while Çakır is fully aware that he is part of something special, and there is an obvious feeling of anticipation, the 38-year-old match official from Istanbul – an international referee since 2006 – also stresses that he and his colleagues will handle the occasion like any other game.
Çakır will be assisted by compatriots Bahattin Duran and Tarık Ongun. Sweden's Jonas Eriksson will be the fourth official, and the two additional assistant referees, Hüseyin Göçek and Barış Şimşek, are also from Turkey. A Turkish reserve assistant referee – Mustafa Emre Eyisoy – completes the refereeing team.
"For me, it was an unforgettable moment," says Çakır of the instant when he learned of his assignment in Berlin. "When [UEFA] called me to tell me that me and my team had been chosen to referee the final of the Champions League, I was extremely pleased. When I think about my team, my family, all the refereeing coaches that helped me become the referee I am today, and all those who believed I could make it this far, it makes me even more pleased.
"Obviously, this is something to be proud of, as well as being a big responsibility. It's the first time that a Turkish referee, and a Turkish team of referees, has been in charge of a Champions League final, and this doubles our responsibility."
Çakır, who graduated in business studies and worked in insurance, owes his start in refereeing to his father. "When I was young, I used to play football," he says, "and I wanted to become a football player. However, my father was a referee and thanks to him I was really aware of how the refereeing world works – and I really liked it. I used to watch his games, and then we would analyse the games together, and it was as if I was his assistant referee.
"When I was 17, there was a refereeing course that was being offered, so I signed up, and ever since then I have been refereeing. It is something I really enjoy doing."
A member of the refereeing lineup at UEFA EURO 2012 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Çakır says that hard work and dedication are key to his reaching his current position. "Today football has reached such a level, and as a referee you really have to prepare yourself for games," he reflects. "Being a referee is much more than just 90 minutes on the pitch. Apart from the actual game, as a referee you have to get ready physically as well as technically and mentally, and you have to dedicate a lot of time to it.
"My philosophy has always been to give my best, whatever I do. Of course I had certain objectives when I first started as a referee, such as being a first-class referee and taking part in big games such as finals. I always worked that way, set my objectives and was patient. If you work hard, then you get rewarded.”
Nowadays the importance of match officials working together as a solid team in the high-pace, high-stakes modern game cannot be emphasised enough, and Çakır is keen to promote the backing he receives from his colleagues. "The referees really are a team, whether that is on or off the pitch," he says. "You cannot achieve anything individually, and you have to work and prepare as a team. My success as a referee I owe to my whole team, we have been preparing as well as refereeing games together, and I would like to thank them for what we have achieved together, because if they weren't there, neither would I be."
Preparation for Saturday will be "business as usual". "Actually, there isn't much difference between this game and other games," Çakır explains. "We prepare the same way we do for any other game, because we are always ready to the best of our abilities. Sure, [it] is a final, and a special day, but we prepare the same way and we are as disciplined as we would be for any game."
Nevertheless, an obvious feeling of anticipation cannot be denied. "Just like the players, we are a part of the game," the Turkish referee adds, "and just like them, we will be excitedly waiting for the game to take place. We will be looking forward to the exciting feeling of being in the tunnel and the feeling of going out onto the pitch."
Finally, what are Cüneyt Çakır's hopes for the showdown in the German capital? "I hope it will be an enjoyable game for everyone, because we have to see it this way: it's the final of the Champions League, it's a European football celebration."