The only time a referee becomes a major talking point after a match is usually when he’s ‘done a Graham Poll’ and booked the same player three times or dropped a similarly sized clanger.
But on an evening when the world stopped to marvel at the football on show in Saturday’s Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea, a cult hero was born.
No, it wasn’t Kai Havertz or one of the Blues’ heroes, who lifted the European trophy for the second time in their history with a 1-0 victory. It wasn’t any player on either side, in fact.
It was referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz. The Spanish official is basically the Mediterranean Mike Dean. He’s viewed as a controversial figure, extremely competent at his job, but occasionally guilty of taking centre stage with his flamboyant antics.
The last thing the Champions League showpiece final needed was a man in yellow spoiling all the fun. Fortunately, Mateu Lahoz was on his best behaviour and policed the game immaculately, producing one of the most noticeably unnoticeable refereeing displays in recent memory.
And as a viewer of the VAR filled Premier League, that is a rare sight. So now the dust has settled, it’s time to salute the man in the middle and look back on some of his best moments from the Champions League final.
We love when referees do ‘footballery’ things, like Mark Clattenburg getting the Champions League and European Championship trophies tattooed on himself, or referee Jon Moss sporting boots with the nickname ‘Mossy’ stitched into them.
So when Mateu Lahoz stepped out from the tunnel and onto the pitch, we were all waiting to see what kind of referee we should expect. He didn’t disappoint.
The Spaniard led from the front and gave a pointed look towards the heavens, before eventually returning his head to its normal position and collecting the ball.
It was a touching moment in memory of lost loved ones, and we all felt the enormity of the occasion with him.
This was the moment when Mateu Lahoz’s mettle was truly tested. A shot was fizzed towards the midriff of Chelsea defender Reece James in the penalty area, and the ball clearly struck the defender on the arm.
Cue pandemonium. Man City’s entire team simultaneously leapt into the air. The bench demanded retribution. It was the closest footballing interpretation of cricket’s “How’s thaaaaaaat?” appeal we are ever likely to see.
All eyes were on our ref – he remained unmoved. Instead, he gave us a dramatic demonstration of his version of events. He repeatedly thumped his chest and then his arm in true Wolf of Wall Street form (BAM BAM BAM), showing the ball’s journey from the body to an accidental flick onto the arm.
VAR confirmed Mateu Lahoz had got it spot on, and play continued. Peak television.
This one had us chuckling away. Antonio Rudiger was down on the ground, having just broken Kevin de Bruyne’s eye socket and nose. Both players looked a little bit stunned, while the Belgian was in far more pain than his opponent.
Delving deep into his endless supply of sympathy, Mateu Lahoz offered a strong hand to help Rudiger to his feet, and the German gratefully reached out to welcome the support.
However, the Spaniard had one last trick up his sleeve, waiting until the centre-back was fully conscious and upright before whipping out a yellow card and sashaying away. You can’t teach that comedic timing.
Like every cult hero, Mateu Lahoz gave us some breathtakingly moving images at the final whistle. Having brought the final to a close, and played the perfect game, the emotion of the occasion all become too much for the official.
With his winners medal around his neck, our referee broke down and burst into tears, unable to hide his pride and honour at refereeing the biggest game in club football.
In what many are describing as the most iconic tears since Paul Gascoigne in 1990, Mateu Lahoz put on a spectacle, and for a minute, we almost forgot that there had been a football match at all.