"I never dreamed I would be a part of this… This is huge", said English referee Mark Clattenburg when the 39-year-old spoke to UEFA.com ahead of the UEFA Super Cup in Cardiff between Real Madrid CF and Sevilla FC.
UEFA.com: Are you excited to be here in Cardiff?
Mark Clattenburg: Very much so. It doesn't feel too different – we have the same stormy weather back home at the minute! But it's fantastic to have the Super Cup in Cardiff and be a part of such a wonderful event. This is a real bonus for me.
UEFA.com: Have you been brushing up on your Spanish?
Clattenburg: A few words! For an English referee, it is a wonderful experience to take charge of an all-Spanish game. I want to give the best performance with my team.
UEFA.com: Can you elaborate on the homework you have done?
Clattenburg: Teams change every year with different managers and players, and it is tricky at the start of a season. But they play pre-season games and as referees we look at their tactics and pace of their play – any little details that can help us during the 90 minutes. If I do my research, it will make my job easier on the pitch.
UEFA.com: Are there any differences between games like this and matches in the Premier League?
Clattenburg: The differences are not as clear as they used to be, as the English league has become slower and more technical. In international football they keep the ball a lot longer, but it is still the same game, and the same 90 minutes.
UEFA.com: How do you prepare for such a big match so early in the season?
Clattenburg: We are prepared mentally and physically, even though it is the first big game of the season for us. I have put in a lot of physical training and also worked on the mental side of things. We use sports psychologists to make sure we are mentally prepared for the big kick-off.
UEFA.com: Your pre-season sounds as intensive as the ones the players dread…
Clattenburg: It is all about timing during the off-season. At the end of a campaign you are mentally and physically fatigued and it is important to be able to rest. We have help from within UEFA, getting advice on when to train, although personally I don't really stop. I like to keep going, and just steadily build up the intensity. I increased it about four weeks ago so I knew, when this appointment was made two weeks ago, that I was ready to go if called upon. I wouldn't have to react to the appointment; I was being proactive. It's important I keep my body tuned.
UEFA.com: What's your schedule like before kick-off?
Clattenburg: European games are different to the Premier League as you have to travel up the day before the game. So I make sure that I eat right the night before and try to sleep well. My team will attend a pre-match meeting on the morning of a game, preparing with the two clubs, and we will have our own meetings within the team, working out how we're going to do things, analysing things we have done well in previous games, and trying to address any problems we might have had last season.
UEFA.com: Last term you officiated a UEFA Europa League semi-final and UEFA Champions League quarter-final: Do you still get nervous?
Clattenburg: I don't think you'd call it nerves, but it is a strange feeling. Anticipation. You're so much looking forward to getting out on that pitch in front of millions of viewers in such a wonderful event. To be a part of this is just amazing – when I started off as a referee at 16 years old I never dreamed I would be a part of this competition. This is huge: a wonderful occasion.
UEFA.com: What targets are on your personal horizons now?
Clattenburg: I set myself goals every year to simply improve on my form last season. I believe that last year went well for me, but I still have to work on the negatives. If I can do that the rewards will come.