The minds of the France and Germany players – who will meet on Friday in the final of the UEFA European Under-17 Championship – should hold few mysteries for Paweł Raczkowski. Appointed to oversee the showpiece encounter in Burgas, the Polish referee, a holder of a master's degree in psychology and boasting several years of business managerial experience, sat down with UEFA.com at the match officials' base in Sliven.
"It [psychology] really helps with player management," said the 32-year-old. "It's one of the reasons why I'm able to strike up a good rapport with the players and manage them and the game very well. My experience as a manager at company level is also very useful too, as I had a big and varied team of people under me."
Surely not as diverse as the refereeing squad here in Bulgaria, where referees and referees' assistants from 21 countries have been involved in the tournament. "Spending time with so many talented officials from all over Europe has taught me so much. We've had a fantastic time, training every day, doing workshops and having discussions with our coaches," said Raczkowski.
"The spirit inside the referees' group has been brilliant, like a community. I'd like to thank all of the guys who've been with me at this tournament. Especially because it was my birthday on 10 May, so we had a big cake and everybody sang 'Happy Birthday'. I spent one of my best birthdays here."
Turning the talk to another landmark occasion, the final, has he watched Jean-Claude Giuntini's France or Christian Wück's Germany in action? "I've only seen France and Germany on TV, I've not had chance to referee them yet, but I've studied the way they play and also, from a referee's perspective, I've studied the players' behaviour too," explained Raczkowski, in the middle for three fixtures in the group stage.
"Whenever I go to a game domestically or internationally, I try to do research on the players involved, their performances and their behaviour – it's very important to be prepared. This will be a big final. Germany against France is always a big game, at any level."
So what of Bulgaria 2015 in general, the running of it and how Raczkowski has been welcomed? "The organisation has been perfect, the people who have organised the tournament and the referees from Bulgaria have been fantastic. They've given us so much support and everything has been on an extremely professional level," continued Warsaw-born Raczkowski, who lives with his wife in the Polish capital but will not be attending the UEFA Europa League final in the city on 27 May.
"I'd have loved to have gone to the game, but I'll be in Nyon doing a CORE development course. I'll be sure to catch it on television, though."
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