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Friday, October 6, 2000
How referee with a heart found his little Brazilian family
By Gabriele Marcotti

Stefano Braschi, the man charged with refereeing the last Wembley international, made a difficult and costly decision 13 months ago.

The Italian and his wife, Paola, packed their belongings and moved 5,000 miles to a two-room flat in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Braschi took unpaid leave from his job as an office supplies salesman and also took an indefinite sabbatical from refereeing, even though he knew it would probably cost him a place at Euro 2000.

The Braschis did all this for the love of three children they had never even met.

In 1997, Braschi applied to adopt a Brazilian child. He was 40 and he and Paola had been unable to have children despite years of trying and expensive treatments.

Two years later, they were informed by an adoption agency that a match had been found: a little girl named Jessica. Two days before flying to Brazil to collect the child, they received another phone call from the agency.

An adoption official said: 'By the way, we forgot to mention Jessica has a sister, Priscilla, and we don't think the tribunal will let you adopt just one of them.'

Paola said: 'We'll do what we need to do, we'll take them both. We'll just chop up a few more tomatoes and throw a little more pasta in the pot.'

But when the Braschis arrived in Brazil they found that the agency had forgotten something else. Jessica and Priscilla had a brother, Roger.

Furthermore, the judge made it clear: 'If you are going to adopt, you must take all three.'

Others might have felt duped or aggrieved, that this Brazilian judge was perhaps trying to exploit the fact they had come this far and were unlikely to say no. Not Braschi, nor his wife.

She simply shrugged and said: 'If that's what we have to do, that's what we're going to do. We'll take them all.'

The judge told them they would have to return to Brazil for a trial period, during which the children would live with them. After that, the tribunal would issue its final decision.

The call came in August 1999. Braschi had 48 hours to decide what to do. UEFA had already summoned him for Champions League duty. He was the third highest- rated referee in Europe and knew he would have a good chance of being called to represent Italy at Euro 2000.

Still, it was no contest. The children came first. The Braschis spent 43 days in Brazil and returned with two daughters and a son - and they have no regrets.

Stefano said: 'I enjoy my work and my refereeing but there's no comparison to the fulfilment which family life brings. If I had to choose, I would walk away from the other two in a heartbeat. Still, I try to balance everything.

'I'm fortunate. I need only four hours' sleep each night, which frees up time for other things.'

A man of principle, he makes huge sacrifices. As a referee he can be forceful but he cherishes his relationship with players.

Two years ago, Juventus striker Pippo Inzaghi was guilty of diving. Braschi could have booked him. Instead he simply said: 'Listen, if you keep this up, we're both going to look bad. You'll get booked and I'll look dumb for not booking you sooner. Just stop it.'

Braschi's common- sense approach worked and Inzaghi restrained himself. He said: 'I am cordial with many of the formerSerie A players abroad. On the pitch it's different, however.

'Dan Petrescu, then at Chelsea, was all smiles before the Cupwinners' Cup Final three years ago, but that did not stop me from sending him off.'


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