International referee Manuel Enrique Mejuto González has been handed the honour of officiating at the FIFA Centennial match between France and Brazil on 20 May. Immensely proud to be selected for this flagship event, the Spanish official talked to FIFA.com about the world of refereeing, and the prospect of presiding over what he expects to be an unforgettable night of football.
What does it mean to you on a personal and professional level to be the referee for the FIFA Centennial Match?
It's immensely satisfying because an event of this magnitude comes along once in a lifetime. There's also a sense of professional pride and contentment to have been singled out from my peers all over the world. It's going to be one of the highlights of my career, that's for sure. When the President of the Referee's Committee at the Royal Spanish Football Federation called me, I didn't hesitate for a moment.
What is the significance of the Centennial Match for you?
Federations that can rightfully claim to be a hundred years old are few and far between. When the federation in question is also football's world governing body, then there is even more cause to celebrate. It's going to be a great occasion.
The Centennial Match promises to be a very special occasion for football fans the world over. Will you and your fellow referees be feeling the pressure?
I have always maintained that referees should be seen as just another participant in the game, and should always try to enjoy the occasion. For the Brazil - France game, there's no need to feel under pressure. Being part of such a unique sporting occasion along with so many footballing greats is something we'll want to savour.
In the 100 years since FIFA was founded, football has evolved in numerous ways. From a referee's perspective, what have the biggest changes been?
There has been a myriad of changes to both the techniques and psychology of refereeing. For example, the pace of the game is getting faster and faster, which in turn requires split-second decision-making from the officials. Furthermore, to encourage more attacking football and high-scoring games, there have been specific new measures put in place: a more favourable interpretation of the offside rule from a striker's point of view, straight red cards for professional fouls on players in clear goalscoring positions, the advantage rule and changes to the laws regarding back-passes to goalkeeper.
Do you think referees are under more pressure nowadays?
When a referee reaches the upper echelons of his profession, he must be prepared to handle the responsibility and stress that comes with the territory, that goes without saying. The other participants in the game, the players, are subject to the ever-increasing demands of modern day football, so it's only fair to expect the same standards from match officials.
Henrik Andren (Sweden) and Arie Brink (Holland) will be your assistants for the game, with Claus Bo Larsen (Denmark) as the fourth official. What can you tell us about them?
Though from different backgrounds, all three are highly experienced and efficient referees. They would not have been chosen otherwise. I thought it was an inspired idea to select referees from FIFA's seven founding member countries to officiate at the Centennial Matches. It will be a great opportunity to work with referees from other countries and share experiences. I always enjoy that, so I'm very much looking forward to the occasion.
And Swiss referee Nicole Petignat who will officiate at the Women's Match.
I've seen her officiate on numerous occasions and she is a first-class referee. I think it's important that she participates in the event. Fortunately for football, and by extension refereeing, the profession is no longer exclusively for men.
How did you come to be a referee in the first place?
I remember I was in college at the time and our physical education teacher was organising a football tournament. He was smart enough to realise that he would need referees so he organised a short course. I put my name down for it and gave it a go. I realised I had a flair for refereeing and that encouraged me to continue. That was 27 years ago, and I've been hooked ever since.
How do you prepare for a game?
Technically speaking you need to be abreast of all the latest developments in the profession and that often means taking courses and intensive training programs. On the physical side I follow a strict programme that keeps me in peak condition. This is vital as I need stamina to keep up with the to and fro of the modern game and still make the right decisions as often as possible.
With all the criticism that referees come in for, is it really worth it?
Absolutely, refereeing is about a lot more than just the 90 minutes on the pitch. It's about working with elite athletes, travelling to new locations and discovering new cultures. Now for example, it's given me the chance to officiate at a monumentally important event. What more could a person ask for?
How do you think young people can be attracted to the profession?
I'd say to people that refereeing is an education in itself and is great for your personal and professional development. You get a totally new perspective on football when you see it from a referee's detached viewpoint. Apart from the satisfaction that comes with your job, there's the added bonus of the enjoyment of the game that this objectivity affords.
Every player has their footballing idols. Are there any officials that you look up to in the refereeing world?
I try to learn something from all the referees I watch, regardless of the level. When I was a youngster I used to watch the referees in the first division, never imagining that one day I would be doing the same. Getting to the top of this profession is very difficult and a lot of quality referees drop out along the way. I feel extremely fortunate not only to have been chosen for this occasion but for all opportunities I have been afforded throughout my career. Without them I could never have come this far.