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World football

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez by Mark Clattenburg

The English referee is well known in the world of football and his appearances in some of the biggest games has given him in inside track on some of the greatest stars.

Cristiano Ronaldo habla con  Mark Clattenburg en un partido de Champions entre el Borussia Dortmund y Real Madrod en 2016

Mark Clattenburg, like any football referee, has his critics, but he earned a place as one of the most respected officials in the world over recent years. Proof of this is seen with him being given the whistle for some of the most prestigious games, including the Champions League and Euro 2016 finals.

Matches like those have given him a certain prestige, and also the possibility of getting to know some of the very best players around. Speaking with Mail online, Clattenburg revealed some of his experiences with footballers that he came into contact with, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez. Here's what he had to say...

Clattenburg on Cristiano Ronaldo

The one thing I admired above all else was his ability to raise his game when the team were down.

I refereed him as a young player in the Premier League, then at Real Madrid and he always delivered. You just knew you were sharing the pitch with a truly unique player who could change the game in an instant.

And I got on very well with him. When I went up the stairs to get my medal after the Euro 2016 final, he tried to grab me and give me a hug — that was the level of respect we had.

I was disappointed when he got injured early in the final because the game lost a great player.

But I never treated him differently from any other player and I think that's why we had a good relationship.

Decent effort | Cristiano Ronaldo scores for Real Madrid against Juventus in April 2018.
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Decent effort | Cristiano Ronaldo scores for Real Madrid against Juventus in April 2018.ANDREA DI MARCOEFE

After one game, a shirt came into my dressing room signed: 'To Mark, best wishes, Cristiano Ronaldo'. I hadn't even asked for it. It was such a nice gesture.

I don't think I ever booked him — maybe that's why I got the shirt!

The first time I refereed Real Madrid, I remember Iker Casillas got the ball from a corner and within three passes they had scored — I wasn't even past the halfway line! But that is what great players like Ronaldo can do. He was so quick and clinical.

It's little surprise Real Madrid aren't the same team without him.

I was in charge when he stepped up for the decisive penalty in the Champions League final in 2016.

My only thought was: "When this is finished I need to get the match ball!" But I knew where it would soon be — in the back of the net.

He hadn't played that well and I could tell he wasn't fully fit. But you just knew it would still be the Cristiano Ronaldo Show.

Clattenburg on Lionel Messi

When I first refereed Messi, I was shellshocked, genuinely.

It was Barcelona against Paris Saint-Germain and, being so close, I remember thinking: '"Oh my God, this is unbelievable."'

When you referee, you tend to watch the ball. With him, you could lose the ball, so imagine what it was like for defenders!

I had to change the way I analysed the situation when he was on the ball. He was so skilful that opponents would try to stop him in different ways, sometimes by fouling him on the foot, sometimes with their upper body.

I cautioned him in that first game against PSG for standing on an opponent's foot, but he never complained or said anything.

He never engaged at all, in fact. That was just him.

At times untouchable | Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona against Real Madrid.
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At times untouchable | Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona against Real Madrid.David RamosGetty Images

But, as a referee, you looked forward to sharing a pitch with Messi because you knew the game could be special.

Clattenburg on Luis Suarez

My first game with him was for Ajax and he scored four. When I came home I told my friends: "What a player, he's unbelievable".

He had that edge to him, a dirty side like Diego Costa, but he had such talent.

I was excited when Liverpool signed him because I knew what an amazing player the Premier League was getting. He played on the edge and you had to manage that.

He would always give you the verbals in Spanish. But I'd refereed all over the world and I knew the swear words, so I'd give him one or two back. That would give him a shock!

Character | Former Liverpool star, now at Barcelona, Luis Suarez.
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Character | Former Liverpool star, now at Barcelona, Luis Suarez.Eurasia Sport ImagesGetty Images

People talk about the laws of the game. Yes, OK, but refereeing, for me, is more about management of the game and the players.

You have to try to help the product — the game — be the best it can be. You had to know how to handle players like Suarez. If you didn't, it would cause you more problems down the line.

Clattenburg also spoke about Manchester City’s Vincent Company and the late Gary Speed which you can read about in the full Mail interview.


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