Pau Cebrian Devis: «I know that the day I leave of being a referee I am going to miss it a lot»

Publicado por LabHipermedia en

Our main guest of January is one of the top assistant referees, both national and internationally: Pau Cebrian Devis.

With countless matches officiated, including a Champions League final, we interview Mateu Lahoz´s right hand over the field of play through video call in order to review his whole refereeing career and to talk about some current affairs.

Interviewer: First of all, thanks for attending to us, Pau.

Pau Cebrian: Good afternoon, Carlos. It is a pleasure to being here with all of you.

I.: Like I said before, people who are informed of refereeing world know you perfectly. But, for someone who do not do it, who is Pau Cebrian inside and especially outside the field of play?

P. C.: Pau Cebrian is a football lover. I come from a football-loving family and I have been an usual consumer of football. I have loved playing football, I am so passionate of it, and at the end I had the luck that my passion turned into my job. At the time I also studied the Mathematics degree, I am a Maths teacher… I am so lucky, that’s the truth.

I.: We are going to talk about Maths later, it is an interesting topic. You said that you have football tradition in your family, and we have seen in some interviews that you have talked about a relative that was a little bit famous in the regional pitches of Valencia. I do not know if you can tell us a little bit more.

P. C.: I see you very well informed (laughing). Yes, it was my uncle. Paco Devis, as known as ‘the Mexican’. He has played at a regional level in several teams and the truth is that he was a very good footballer. When I was a child I went constantly to see him with my family and he was like the originator of all of this. What is more, my grandfather also loved football and with both my passion for football started.

I.: And why did you choose the path of refereeing?

P. C.: At the end, I chose this path simply because I wanted to continue being linked with football. I played football at the same time I was studying Maths, and I realized that I could not be fully concentrated in both. I had no time to train, and I decided to start my refereeing career. The truth is that it was a superb decision because it allows me to have some money when I was young, to buy my first car and year by year continue to promote and improve. It has become into one of the centres of my life.

I.: We know that refereeing, being an international referee like you, lets you with very little free time between LaLiga matches, I think you have refereed in the Spanish Cup this week (the interview was made the 2th of December), in the national match fixtures you travelled to Bosnia… But, when you have some leisure time, what do you like to do?

P. C.: I like to slow down, to stop. We have a very high rhythm. This season there are national team matches, European competitions, Liga, Cup, VAR too… We are constantly over the field of play or in the VOR (Video Operations Room). So what I like to do when I come here is to be relaxed, to meet my friends, to see my family, to be with my girlfriend… That is what really brings me peace and that plus for mustering and continuing with energy with what I am doing.

I.: Do you get to get away, or refereeing is always in your mind?

P. C.: Like I said before, I am obsessed about football, I have always been it. Now, the truth is that I am a little less obsessed, because sometimes I try to get away from football. At the end, being so involved… I think more than I do does not give you better chances a posteriori, but it is truth that it is impossible for me to evade myself of watching football matches, it is impossible that I stop being informed about the latest news because it is my job and, like I said before, it is also my passion. I can not do it, but I try to find my moments of keeping away.

I.: And with all that travels, does refereeing tire mental and physically? It is truth that it is a short job, at the end you are active until 45 years old more or less, although nowadays there are no age restrictions like in previous years. Does everything related to refereeing balance out that fatigue?

P. C.: At the end, it is a whole. Logically, you are tired because the trips are long, you spend a lot of days far from home… In some way, that influence yourself, I am not going to say no. And mentally is like your head barely resets. But it balances out, of course. And by far because I am working in a world that I love. There is nothing better than this.

I.: We have talked before about the football-loving tradition of your family. Did they expect that you became a referee?

P. C.: In fact, the initiator was my father. It was his idea because he saw that I was watching every football match on TV no matter the division, or reading newspapers and articles related to football. When he sea that my desire for football was decreasing because I can not reach my dream, he gave me the idea. Both he and my grandfather have always believed in me. I was a situation that I have lived year by year, looking my possibilities and at the beginning it was not my goal to reach LaLiga, nor being international or everything I have achieved, which is a dream. I was focused on my career, on doing my best in every match and, little by little, the goals are higher. You start by fixing short-term goals and, at the end… It has been amazing.

I.: As you have mentioned before, you are a Maths graduate. Do you think that this career has helped yourself in refereeing? Maybe not over the field of play, but in mentality.

P. C.: It is truth that the Maths degree is tough and complex, and I have spent a lot of time and effort to complete it. And I can say the same about refereeing. Nowadays, you have to study the teams: there are lots of statistics, you have Wyscout, InStat, Transfermarkt… You have a lot of places where you can find information, so nowadays I think Maths are more useful for me and more related to refereeing.

I.: You have also mentioned that you are a Maths teacher. We have also seen some teaching books written by you. Is education a world that also inspires you?

P. C.: Yes, the truth is that I have started to study Maths without the goal of being a teacher. But, at the end, one thing leads you to another and I was six years as a teacher of Secondary level. And the book was something that my father stated. My parents were teachers. He started to write it, but he reached an age which did not allow him to continue, so I took his place and ended it with the rest of the team. It is a nice thing that I have done in my life.

I.: At the end, it is clear that your family’s influence is very important in your life, both in refereeing and in teaching.

P. C.: Yes, there is no doubt.

I.: In LabHipermedia we share that passion for teaching. We are focused on developing tools for sports formation, especially for referees, like CloudLab. How do you manage with this kind of technology?

P. C.: Very well, I think all these things are something very positive for us because they make us easier the access of the material, and that is gold for us. The truth is that we are very happy.

I.: With regard to the future, although we hope you still have a long refereeing career ahead of you, you have said that you have been teacher for six years, we know that you give talks in the Valencian Referees’ Committee as well… Do you see yourself more linked to Maths or to football in the future?

P. C.: It is a question with a difficult answer because we do not know what it is going to happen in the future. I have both paths open and, like I said before, football is my passion. Y would love to continue my link with football. Logically, I would be glad if my refereeing career is prolonged as possible, because I know that the day I leave of being a referee I am going to miss it a lot, and also I would be pleased to help young referees from another role in a near future. And also I have other path with the Maths. I get on well with young people, so It is an option that I do not dismiss.

I.: Focusing on your beginnings in refereeing, do you remember your first match? When, how was the pitch and how was your performance?

  1. C.: I remember that it was a match at 09.00 AM, an extremely cold morning. A seven-a-side football match. I do not remember the teams and where it happened, in Valencia surely, but what I remember is that I felt very comfortable. I was so immersed in football that I knew perfectly how the referee had to behave in the field of play. That gives you a lot.

I.: Almost every referee starts as a match official in those categories. In which moment did you decide to change your role and to be an assistant referee?

  1. C.: I was in amateur categories like four or five seasons. At the same time, I was in Third Division as an assistant referee. In both roles I felt very comfortable. The fact that I focused on being an assistant was that I saw that I was not being promoted, which was my goal in that moment. So I simply encouraged myself and make the decision, one of the best in my life.

I.: And which is the function that attracts you more about being an assistant referee?

  1. C.: The function?

I.: Yes. At the end, lot of people think that everything is related to the offside, but you do more things than that.

  1. C.: Of course, I can not say it better. Yes, an assistant referee is in charge of the offside rule and it is a job that in the 80-90% of the occasions depends exclusively on his decision, although there is like a 20% related to teamwork. I have put an estimated percentage, but then the assistant referee have to be alert of a thousand things more, we are constantly helping the match official and this is the reason why we are in the field of play. It is the most essential function that the assistant referee role has.

I.: From this answer I can imagine your next one, but I suppose you are informed about the words of Arsène Wenger saying that FIFA was studying to automate the offside; in fact, they are testing in the Arab Cup a semi-automatic system. Some people think that this is going to be the end of the assistant referee. How do you see the future of your job?

P. C.: I do not know what to answer because we have seen that in a short amount of time football has changed a lot. An extreme change. Football has always been a conservative sport in which the changes have been introduced little by little and the Laws of the Game were very difficult to modify. And suddenly, with the introduction of VAR, football has completely changed.

So how do I see this? I do not know, that is the truth, but I think that in the field of play it is important to have a team, not only a single person. You can see more, you have different points of view about a same play and, for me, that is something essential to make the right decision, which is our job.

I.: For example, in a fault near your influence area referee is going to be more focused in the penalty area if there is going to be a crossing pass, while the assistant referee is going to pay more attention to the kick or to the wall… Like you said, teamwork is very important in your job.

P. C.: There is no doubt.

I.: What is more, you usually have the added pressure of controlling the benches. How can you work having a coach or a substitute who starts to protest behind you?

P. C.: With naturalness. Everybody is doing their job as best as possible, in both individual and collective ways. It needs to be understanding for all the parts involved. I understand that people in certain occasions can be nervous, happy… Beginning with that understanding and with respect, everything goes well and natural. I do not have many problems with coaches and players and I am sure that this is going to stay in the future because everything can be solved with understanding.

I.: I am not going to be so bad to ask you for the name of a coach or player that was very challenging to deal with, but I am going to ask you the opposite. Do you remember a coach or a player that was especially well-mannered giving his point of view to the referees?

P. C.: A coach… I would say (Marcelo) Bielsa. I think he is top in both the field of play and press conferences. Bu it is a subjective opinion. I do not know him, apart for some seasons that we shared when he was training Athletic de Bilbao. I know how he behaves in the field of play, but only that.

I.: An anecdote for someone who is not familiar. Normally, in LaLiga an international referee is combined with a national assistant referee. How do you distribute yourself in the pitch?

P. C.: The international assistant referee is usually in the benches area, while the national is in the opposite side. But we are all colleagues and there are no ranges, it is just one is international but not the other, but we are all equal, without any differences. IN fact, there are national assistant referees that are top for me. In a ranking, I would place some of them in the top three.

I.: And returning to the beginnings, did you have any idol in the refereeing world?

P. C.: Like I said before, I start refereeing because of my love and passion for football. My idols were not referees in that moment, as well as there was less information than today. My models were players, I was keen on watching football and analyse the tactics of the teams, and that things led me to refereeing. It its truth that from that moment I have met people that today are my idols because I have worked with them, they have different skills than me that I admire and that has caused that they have become models for me, as well as friends, colleagues…

I.: Precisely that was the next question, if nowadays you see any referee and think: “I love the way he manages the game, I keep my eyes on him to improve…”.

P. C.: My idols are people from which I have been able to learn. Referees that have belonged to my team, because I have been able to know them well and to draw a conclusion about their performance. I would not like to give you a list because I would not like to leave someone out, but well… People I spend time with, I have been able to talk about football with, people who provides me something…

Well, I am going to give you the list. If we talk about assistant referees, Xavi Aguilar (Rodríguez), which is not already working. I spent some good moments with him. In my first year, when I arrived to Mateu Lahoz’s team, he was international and it was very fruitful, I learnt a lot with him. Then Jon Nuñez (Fernandez), who is a person that really helps you to value being a referee because with him there is an emotional connection, as well as a professional matter, and he is a person I deeply admire inside and outside the pitch. Or Iker (de Francisco Grijalba), who appeared in our team when Jon left us with so much excitement and hunger for learning that gave me an energy plus because he has both in excess. And, of course, Roberto Díaz Pérez (del Palomar). I constantly share with him international matches and I think he is a superb assistant referee both inside and outside the field of play.

And, to end the answer, Toño Mateu (Lahoz), who is my match official. He is the person with whom I have shared so many years and moments… With whom I have learned and unlearned about football, because sometimes you have to unlearn too. The truth is that if we talk about a refereeing model for me, I must say Toño.

I.: I want to ask you about him, but it is going to be later. How is your preparation before a match? I do not know if you have any fixation or something special before joining the field of play, or any ritual with Mateu Lahoz and the rest of the team.

P. C.: No, no way. Normally everything is very routine. You eat, take a nap, go to the pitch… Everything is very routine and I do not have any type or fixation in particular.

I.: In previous interviews, there are people who tell us that maybe an object… Nothing, zero superstition?

P. C.: No, no. I do not have objects because I lost them, I am a little bit hopeless (laughing).

I.: You only spent two years in the Spanish Second Division. In 2010 you promoted to First Division and in 2012 you were already refereeing internationally. How did you receive those important news and with so little temporary distance between them?

P. C.: You can imagine it. Being promoted to First Division, and with Toño… I started to officiate matches that I had never thought to be in them, with top teams and players, and the truth is that it was amazing. For me, that year was puff, I was constantly freaking out. Ut was a novelty that I did not really expect and every match was better that the previous one, and then immediately I was appointed as international and started to referee matches abroad. I had no words for it.

I.: And was the adaptation hard in so little time? At the end, in two years you climbed from Second Division to international matches. I suppose that it was shocking, was not it?

P. C.: Well, more than shock I would say like goosebumps. Because then you go inside the field of play and it is football. In First Division, in an international match, in Third Division… Everything is football. It is truth that the impact is different and top matches have different connotations, but if you are able to simplify that you are in a pitch with 22 players, that you are a person and you are going to make some mistakes, that you are going to do your best, and live it with naturalness, everything is much easier. If you start to climb mountains in your mind, then everything become complicated.

I.: Like we said at the beginning, you are part of the refereeing history, we have to admit it. You have officiated in Eurocups, World Cups, more than 200 games in LaLiga… I suppose what you are going to choose, but is there any match that you remember with special affection?

P. C.: There are two matches. I can say more but two are the most special. The Spanish Cup final here in Mestalla (stadium of Valencia CF), at home, with my family in the grandstands… Being in my city and seeing that atmosphere was amazing for me. And then the Champions League final, with everything that match implies…. That day I had some mountains in my head and I could not take my usual snap. I had to go for a walk.

I would choose those two, but then there are many more: The World Cup debut, the Eurocup debut… Those were also very nice matches.

I.: At the end, debuts are always lived with a special emotion, but it is truth that refereeing a Champions League final is like the epitome of a refereeing career. On top of that there is maybe only a World Cup final. What is more, three Valencian were in the match: Mateu, Juan Martinez Munuera as VAR and you. Did it feel more special sharing the moment with both?

P. C.: Well, I do not think so. It is more special because of the personal proximity and because of living it with my team what really makes it more value. It is nice the fact of being Valencian, but those feelings are two or three steps higher.

I.: We have talked about him before, but your career is obviously connected in the last years with Mateu Lahoz. What does Mate mean for you, maybe not in a refereeing level but in a personal one?

P. C.: I have lived every situation you can imagine with Toño. Apart from the professional matter, we have been closely linked at a personal level. I know his family, he knows mine, we have lots of common friends too… Nowadays he is like part of my family. And the same during my whole career, so Toño for me is a very special person and he is always going to be it in every aspect of my life.

I.: I do not know if you have refereed together before First Division.

P. C.: Yes, yes. We officiated some matches together when he was in Third Division… I think in regional categories too. And when he promoted to Second B Division I was with him, we refereed together. Besides being together in professional football we met before.

I.: And did you have a good relationship before or have the constant contact contribute to it?

P. C.: No, no, we had a very good relationship before, that is the truth.

I.: At an international level you usually form a trio with the Basque assistant referee Roberto Diaz Perez del Palomar. I would like to ask you if it is a little bit strange, although it is the tradition, the fact that Mateu and you need to change the other assistant: in LaLiga you officiate with Ruben Porras and in international matches with Roberto.

P. C.: It is not strange. Normally I do not share matches here in Spain with Roberto, but he belongs to my team too. He as well as Richi (Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea, match official) and Jon are my team because we have a nice relationship, and I logically watch their matches lots of times. And Ruben has come new to the team and he has adapted splendidly. He is a nice guy and all of them are helping in order to a sooner and faster adaptation, and he is doing it perfectly. It is not strange; at the end, it is always the same: you go to the match and you try that the team fits together as best as possible independently of your colleagues. And if another new referee comes to the team it is the same. When he arrives, we have to give him all the confidence and freedom to be himself. It is not strange, no way, it is a pleasure every time I share a match with any of them.

I.: Talking about Ruben Porras, I have read in some interviews that both Mateu and you were an inspiration for him. I do not know if he asks you for advices and if you have wanted to give them or if you prefer that he makes his own may. How is your relationship?

P. C.: Our relationship is very good. Of course we talk about football, no way. He is in my team, or I am in his team, and we have to share ideas, discuss situations and agree and disagree, reach common or similar points of view… Yes, he asks me for advice and I ask him for the same, because he is also a First Division referee and at the same time a person different to me. He has his own point of view and I am interested in knowing and listening to other points of view, because at the end listening to other people can cause that your ideas change a little bit, and that is always interesting. Of course there is exchange of information.

I.: That is one of the beautiful things of refereeing: you are a team and there is feedback between both assistant referees, and also with Mateu. Although you have a longer career than Ruben Porras, I am sure you learn a lot with him.

P. C.: A lot, and you have also introduced Toño to the mix and it is important to know the opinion of the match official about certain plays too, because he lives them from another perspective. It is also important for us to see how he is officiating our actions, how he is living them. The decision is going to be made in common and we need to listen him too.

I.: I want to ask you about another two colleagues. The first one is Juan Carlos Yuste, who has recently returned to the pitches after being in treatment because of a health problem. How did you receive the news about his illness and recovery?

P. C.: I know ‘Juanki’ since I was in Second Division because he has an extremely long career, with lots of successes. He is a top assistant referee and a very good colleague who I admire. Logically with sadness, because when something like that happens to a colleague is not pleasant. And, at the same time, with happiness because he has come back with a lot of strength. Some days ago, I saw him in Madrid and he felt very happy, joyful, laughing… He seemed like a kid and it looks like a joke, because he has a long career, but every cloud has a silver lining and now he has an energy rise. I am so glad of him.

I.: We add ourselves to that joy. In fact, at LabHipermedia we have a lot of contact with him through both Spanish CTA and Madrid CTA.

On the other hand, you are not the first assistant referee interviewed by us. The first was the former international assistant referee Yolanda Parga, who officiated a World Cup final and is a model for many. And the second one is Guadalupe Porras. I want to ask you about the last one. I do not know if you have a good relationship with her. How do you see her performances over the field of play?

P. C.: Guadalupe is a colleague like the others. And, like you say, I think she must be a mirror because nowadays she is in a very visible position and there are lots of people and girls who are seeing her each weekend, and they can learn from her and see themselves as Guadalupe in the future. For me is a mirror, and you only need to see her performances. She is a very very good assistant referee. I happened to meet her once in the Wanda (Atletico de Madrid pitch), and my manner with her is good.

I.: I think the next can be the most difficult question. If I ask you for choosing only three words to describe the way you referee, what words would you choose?

P. C.: My way of refereeing? Passion, commitment and I do not know if I would choose pleasure or impartiality, but well, I have said four.

I.: Well, no matter (laughing). I do not know if you want to talk a little bit about each word.

P. C.: Passion because I think it is mandatory to do any task in a proper manner, if you do not have it you will become stagnant, and it is the opposite to develop. I think it is mandatory for every referee, for every sportsman and sportswoman or for every person in his daily life. Which were the other words?

I.: You said commitment.

P. C.: It is the same, you need to be fully committed. For example, when you are young and you have a match at 09.00 AM and your friends go out for dinner or party and you have to stay at home. Or you have a Laws of the Game exam and you have to study because it is important for you. It is necessary to be committed, as well as to be committed in terms of teamwork. When you enter in the field of play you can not give your 99%, you have to be at your 100% and that is commitment. You have to help your colleague and the all the individuals must add to be a team. Commitment is unnegotiable.

Impartiality because if you are a referee you must be completely neutral, you have to simply judge the plays that happen in the match in order to be as fair as possible. And the next one was…

I.: I can not remember now. Could be leadership?

P. C.: No, it was pleasure. Logically, it is the same as passion: if you enjoy a task it is easier that you achieve your goals efficiently and in a better way. It is necessary, and both in refereeing and in your life you experience ups and downs. If you do not enjoy each match, each journey, it is like it loses the worth for you. It is essential too.

I.: And how do you live with the mistake? Because it is truth that refereeing is a job in which everybody talks more about wrong decisions than about good ones and in which self-analysis it is very important. How do you live with that?

P. C.: Before, I told you about goosebumps, which are a little bit like living under pressure and realizing that you are refereeing a match watched by a lot of people, and in which you are the center of attention… We put up with pressure very well, at the end it is only football. The mistake management matter I have to admit that I struggle to manage it, especially in my beginnings. I was so much perfectionist, each little mistake chased me… After so many years I have improved and I am sure that, as I said before, we are humans and we make mistakes, it is normal. And after being under the spotlight, there is a moment in which you have to stop brooding on the mistake because it is not going to help you.

I.: Experience is very important, like many say.

P. C.: No doubt.

I.: I would want to ask you about a curious fact. Have you officiated a couple of matches in the Saud Professional League?

P. C.: Yes, it is true.

I.: Could you tell us your experience?

P. C.: Yes, there are Saudi League matches that demand Spanish referees. I have the luck of being involved in two or three. It is a different football, a different atmosphere in terms of attendance and with a very hot temperature… You do not know the players, the behaviour is also different… It is another experience, rewarding and nice.

I.: Talking with Guadalupe, I remember that she underlined about refereeing abroad was that, seeing other sports and football cultures and seeing how similar and different are in relation to Spain. I do not know if you can underline some culture or country that is noteworthy for you in this aspect.

P. C.: I do not know. It is truth that nowadays football is universal and every team have players of different nationalities. But you can see it clearly in national team tournaments. All the players are from the same country and you see that, although they play in different teams and live in different places, their origin is common. There is where you can see what we are talking about, similarities and different ways to behave and to understand football.

I.: The second-to-last question, although after seeing your passion for football maybe it is a little bit complicated. If you had to change football for another sport to referee, which one would you choose?

P. C.: Not one, I would not change it (laughing).

I.: And the last one: What advice would you give to every person that want to start refereeing but they are not fully convinced?

P. C.: At the end, it is a matter of taking a leap of faith, of being convinced, test it and continue if you like it. And if you are not satisfied about your first match, keep trying it. You have always chances to give up, because if you are not happy you have to give it up and find another path. And for young people I think it is important that they do not focus on distant goals. The goals must be to enjoy and to meet people, refereeing is an excellent world to meet people, to make relationships and create links between people.

And listen, listen to everybody and do not go mad because they are not going to be always right. You have to listen, of course, value every opinion and then take those that you think they are positive for you. And, like I said before, you have to be able to unlearn and say: “ups, maybe I was wrong”. Sometimes you have to go back to the origin in order to grow as a person.

I.:That is very important. At the beginning of a project you have to listen everything, but sometimes you have to be able to unlearn. Thank you very much, Pau.

P. C.: It has been a pleasure, I hope everything goes well for you.

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