A chip off the old block
The date of 3 November 2006 will forever remain important in the life of the Benchabane family. It is just past 15:00 hours and several hours since time was called at the end of the United States - Japan encounter. However, whistles are still very much the hot topic for one family sitting in the stands of Cococaba stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
"How long have I been telling you to change it? You're not being heard!" It is with all a father's love for his son that Lakdar Benchabane goes over his son Sofien's first-ever FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup encounter in painstaking detail.
What is more, the lad surprisingly seems to be all ears when it comes to taking advice from his father and role model. "It's true that he's always behind me. In his view, I've never had a good match, but at least I'm aware of all the errors I make. I see it as an advantage really, and I'm learning fast." At the age of 22, Sofien already has ten years of refereeing under his belt. Ten years of constant fine-tuning: "Only once, after a Gambardella (French youth cup) match, did he not have anything to pick me up on. I'll never forget it."
So what did Lakdar think of his son's display today? "Apart from this business about the whistle which is really bugging me, I didn't have much to tell him. He had to show a red card and didn't hesitate for a second. I must congratulate him on that." Sofien lowers his eyes as his cheeks begin to redden.
During his own international refereeing career, Lakdar Benchabane, or 'Ben' as he is known to his friends, took charge of fixtures including a French Cup Final, a dozen UEFA Champions League encounters, the gala match for the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ draw before switching to beach soccer, where he has officiated in three FIFA World Cup matches.
"They're all unforgettable memories. But at 52, it's time to make way for the new guard. I swear that I had a tear in my eye when I saw Sofien come onto the field. I'm so proud of him." Through fear of catching his son's eye during the game and putting him off, the man who is supervising the referees at Rio de Janeiro 2006 decided to sit in the stands for once.
However, Sofien's beach soccer officiating is only his summer occupation. For the rest of the year, he takes charge of youth matches and aims to join the French federation before long. "But to do that, he needs to work even harder than the others," interjects Ben. "He conducts himself well on the pitch but still has a few shortcomings in terms of theory. If he doesn't want his career to come to a sudden halt, he's going to have to buckle down."
There too, his son accepts the criticism: "Despite my passion for refereeing, I clearly am a bit lacking in the theory department. Even when I was young, I wasn't a great one for studying," he declares with a cheeky grin.
Meanwhile, the 'son of the father' is continuing his apprenticeship on Copacabana beach. And who knows, perhaps one day, he will be spared his father's cruel-to-be-kind approach, when Benchabane senior turns his attentions to younger brother, 17-year-old Faouzi.