Spanish eyes will be focused on Bucharest on Wednesday night but they will not be alone. When the UEFA Europa League final between Club Atlético de Madrid and Athletic Club kicks off, the 10,000 or so residents of a small Bavarian town will also be glued to their television sets.
After all, Ergolding is the home of Wolfgang Stark, the German referee charged with officiating the final at the National Arena Bucharest. "I think all the people in my small town will watch the game on TV," Stark told UEFA.com as he looked forward to the "first international final" of his career.
Stark was speaking after a training session with his team of assistants on the National Arena pitch on the eve of the all-Spanish showpiece. "The most important thing is teamwork," he stressed as he reflected with pride on his assignment.
I am very proud to be here together with my team and to have been appointed for this important final.
|fr. l: Mike Pickel, Wolfgang Stark, Jan-Hendrik Salver (c) ZIMBIO|
They flew into the Romanian capital on Monday and their preparations will not differ too greatly from for a normal Bundesliga match although, as Stark explained, "it's a final and so the preparation is a little bit extra because the whole of Europe is watching". This includes studying videos of the two teams and he made a point of watching their semi-final matches.
For Stark, a Bundesliga referee since the mid-90s, this final follows his first German Cup final last season between FC Schalke 04 and MSV Duisburg. Will that previous experience help him? "Maybe it can help because there's always a special atmosphere in a final. But I think a Europa League final is a little different – it's international."
One of the referees selected for UEFA EURO 2012, he has an impressive CV already, which includes three matches at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2008 Olympic football tournament. Since 2001 he has overseen 51 UEFA Champions League games and 18 in the UEFA Europa League, including two in the knockout stages of this season's competition.
Stark, whose day job is in banking, was inspired to become a referee by his father, Rudolf. "He was also a referee in the second division, and an assistant in the first league in Germany." He remains an important sounding board. "He's one of the people who give me advice."
Something else that does not change is that feeling in his stomach in the minutes leading up to a game. "It's not nervous, it's a small feeling inside, and I think each referee has this feeling before kick-off." It will happen again on Wednesday before he leads the teams out on one of the special nights of his career – as his family and friends watch with pride back in Bavaria.