The Man in the Middle

So, my first post in earnest will have to revolve around the one aspect of the beautiful game that will forever mar it’s image. Like a brand new Bentley Continental with a scratch, the refereeing decisions thus far have completely taken away from the glories of the season. Playing three games a week with, on average, 7-8 first team players on the treatment table, is tough enough in itself – the last thing a team needs is for all its hard work being upturned by the man in the middle. This season, three main incidents come to mind, though there have been plenty of others. In order of earliest to latest, they are :

1. Sulley Muntari’s ‘ghost goal’


The laws of the game are clear : if the ball crosses the line, no matter how acrobatic the keeper or defender, it is a goal. Simple as that, no two ways about it. Apparently, the arsehole linesman you can see in the background was too busy counting the ka-ching coming his way to pay attention.

Okay, let’s give the idiot the benefit of the considerable doubt. Let’s believe him when he says that he couldn’t see the ball cross the line. Poppycock, obviously, since the ball is about as glaring a shade of yellow as it can be without it turning into a miniature model of the sun. But let’s assume that he didn’t see it. Can he see Buffon? I’m sure the six-foot-plus keeper is big enough for someone with poor eyesight to see as well. Can he see how stretched Buffon’s arms are? Can he see that a LARGE part of the keeper’s body is behind the goal-line? Now, let’s do some elementary logical reasoning. If two feet of a person’s frame is behind the goal line, and the ball is in the hands of the person’s outstretched arms, it logically follows that, if not more, the ball is two feet behind the goal line. TWO FEET. That is a massive amount. Obviously, either the assistant referee is BLIND, or he’s just been paid off. Whatever the reason, Milan were robbed of a goal that would’ve seen them end Juve’s idiotic unbeaten run and put them far ahead of them even at this stage. Two points lost to the assistant referee’s madness. He has, subsequently, been “relieved of his duties, to consider his actions”. He should be stoned in public, as far as I’m concerned. I’m all for the very human trait of making mistakes – hell, I make several a day. But when you’re at this level, you can’t afford to make them.

What makes the whole thing even worse is that the referee apparently gave the goal, then withdrew his decision by deferring to the call his assistant made. Shame on him. If he can’t have the strength of his convictions, he has no business being the man in the middle. He could’ve overruled the call, since even he would’ve clearly seen it. But he chose to wave play on. I hope you suffer, Paolo Tagliavento.

Points Lost : 2

2. Robinho’s ghost goal at Catania :

And again

Okay, let me set one thing straight – I think Robinho is an ass. He’s wasteful in possession, wasteful in front of goal, he goes down way to easily for any referee to give him any decision and has the reasoning skills of a frog high on LSD. That being said, sometimes, he does the right thing, and manages to come up with a trick or pass or goal that makes you love the samba dancer again. But these things happen so rarely, that a majority of the time is spent wincing whenever he has possession, and in a one on one, the shout isn’t, “OOOOOOOOH!!! COME ON, COME ON!!!”, it is, ” AW, SHIT! IT’S ROBINHO”.

The situation that happened in the second half against Catania, as highlighted in the picture above, is like the Leonid Meteor shower – it happens very rarely, and when it does, you’ll stay up to watch it. I did. I watched it happen in extremely choppy quality, and even I saw that the ball had crossed the line. If a player manages to round the keeper, and beat three defenders with his shot, you should probably give him the benefit of the doubt, based solely on the effort itself. Robinho managed to do everything right, and still wasn’t given the goal that his efforts merited.

I’ll grant the referee the fact that this was a lot tougher a call to make than the one in the Juve match. No question. But again, at the very summit of Italian football, at the toe end of the season, such calls can make or break a championship for a team. Milan has been playing three games a week for pretty much the entire year. The last thing they need is for a bad call to unravel their season. But that is exactly what is happening. Milan drew 1-1 with Catania, and Juve won 3-0 against Napoli, who were supposed to give them more of a fight.

Points Lost : 2

3. Nesta punished vs Barca, but Mascherano escapes :

For the record, let me say that I don’t think Milan are as good a team as Barcelona at present. Yes, we have incredible players and yes, we have a fantastic history, something we can all be proud of. However, the fact remains that Barca are a well oiled machine, that can unlock most defenses and embarrass even the most storied of sides. The fact that we didn’t let that happen in any of the four matches we played speaks volumes for our tactical nous and gritty, never-say-die attitude, but the better team did win in the end.

With those pleasantries out of the way, let the ranting begin – Barca is a side of conniving little cheats. Their game plan is always pass-pass-pass-dive. They play such fantastic football, sometimes it is sheer pleasure watching them, even if you hate them. But they absolutely ruin their credibility with their play acting and diving. When the chips are down and they meet an opponent that is proving a tougher nut to crack, they resort to cheap tricks.

I’m not saying all Barca players are like that. Some, like Messi himself, don’t dive and are rightly awarded fouls. Messi used to dive in the Rijkaard days, but he’s chosen to go for goal rather than wait for free-kicks these days, which is very heartening to see. The divers in the team are mostly those who have come to the senior side from the cantera – Busquets (curse this man to the pits of hell), Thiago, Pedro, etc. These players have made it their stock in trade to simply bundle over whenever a small breeze blows across them, and extract the foul. It is unbelievably infuriating to see, because they obviously have loads of talent that they seem to be okay with squandering away in the thespian arena.

A special mention for Busquets – this guy is the WORST footballer I’ve seen, and I’ve seen Ibrahim Ba (who, for the uninitiated, is possibly the worst player in any position that Milan have ever had. His one contribution to the team was that he was signed to be the good luck charm for the team, not to play, but to be on the team’s roster. I swear this is true. Look it up.). He’s tall and lanky, looks like a gopher, and doesn’t intend on ever staying on his feet. He probably loves grass, which is why he looks for every opportunity to kiss it. His contributions to the Barca cause are always extracting fouls. All he does is pass to Xavi or Messi when he wants to do something football-related. Every other time, he’s looking for ways to be fouled and getting people sent off. You should understand how much I hate Inter, so bringing up an Inter-related example to substantiate this is extremely painful, but necessary. Forgive me if, during the course of this example, I feel a little twinge every time I talk about an Inter player in a good light.

In the worse Champions League season of my life (the one in which Inter won it), Barca and Inter had a show down in the semi finals. Busquets was fouled by Thiago Motta, which got him sent off. So far, so good. BUT, the contact was completely unintentional (ow!) and minimal (ouch!). Busquets fell down like someone had hit him with the Spear of Destiny. He rolled on the ground like he’d been disemboweled. He clutched his face as if the skin on it had been flayed clean off. I think it was the worst it could get, but NO…Busquets never lets down his adoring audience. He actually PEEKED through the fingers clutching his face to see if his play acting worked. This guy is PURE class, if by class, you mean Class A vomit.

I digressed again. The point I wanted to make was about the Quarter Final, second leg, between Milan and Barca at the Camp Nou. Milan held out for 10 minutes before a brain fart by Mexes let Messi through, and Antonini’s misjudged follow through caught Messi. No question it was a penalty. Milan found the equalizer through Ibra’s sublime pass and Nocerino’s cool finish. Things were looking amazing – Milan were outpassing Barca! Then the moment of the match happened – on a corner, the referee awarded a penalty for Nesta’s shirt tugging.

CRIMINAL judgement

Nesta was holding Busquets’ shirt, no question. It was a foul, no question. BUT, three things :

a. Penalties aren’t awarded for a minor foul like this.

b. The ball was not in play. If the referee saw this as a foul, he should’ve stopped the corner from being taken, and talked to Nesta.

c. When the ball was in play, Puyol DELIBERATELY ran back and nudged Nesta out of the way. Why deliberately? Look at the image above. You can clearly see Puyol see what Nesta was doing, and in the second picture, you can see how he juts his posterior in Nesta’s path to stop him. That was as much of a foul as Nesta’s.

The penalty was given, Barca scored, and that took the wind out of Milan’s sails. Barca ended the first half a goal to the good. In the second half, another piece of controversy. Almost at the start, Ibra got the ball, controlled it past Pique, and was turning around to pass it to Robinho, when Javier “Cut-throat” Mascherano takes him down. Arguably, this was an even more blatant foul, and it would’ve been a penalty on ANY other night.

The trip that decided the game

Mascherano got none of the ball. It was a mistimed tackle that should’ve seen him get a yellow, and Milan awarded the penalty. At 2-2, I would’ve bet all my money on Milan holding on. They would’ve taken Seedorf off for Bonera, and reinforced the defense. Milan would’ve played negative, no doubt, but I don’t think Barca would’ve gotten the next goal. As it turns out, Iniesta scored off a lucky deflection when Messi’s shot, deflected off Mexes’ block, blundered into his path quite fortunately. No questions about the finish – it was wonderful. But Barca didn’t deserve to win 3-1.

I’m not a conspiracy nut. I think all referees make mistakes. But Barca, with their 60%+ possession in every game benefit the most, of this there is no doubt. Milan play as clean as they can, with the restrictions they have. It is very unfortunate that they don’t get the rewards they deserve.

The game should never be about the referee. Unfortunately, at three crucial junctions in Milan’s season, that’s exactly what it has been.


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