The exalted position of football as the most followed sport across the world is a result of its ability to consistently serve up contests that live up to the “hype” that surrounds them. The return leg (not really) of the titanic clashes between Barcelona and Chelsea, now into its third season is ample evidence to the passion the game arouses.
The success of such a game relies not just on the players on the field (who would, among them, be making more than 2 million pounds in weekly wages) or the managers, whose tactics and mind-games are mouth-watering contests themselves, or the almost 100000 fans who throng the Estadio Nou Camp, to the majority of whom, the performance of their team is a matter of Catalonian pride. A match of this nature needs good refereeing.
Given the history of the tie and the hostility between the teams, the man in charge of the field should really be in charge. One small moment of madness can flare into a controversy of untold proportions. Referees are a poor lot, literally. They run around the field, as much as any player would. But they are paid paltry sums. Players can get away with mistakes, but referees cannot. Referees do not get anything for having had a good game. But one poor decision, and they are villified, dissected, roasted.
Top on the menu this morning, not just here, but all across Europe is Mr. Farina, the referee who orchestrated the horror show last night. He dished out 10 yellow cards, two of which were thought to have gone to Ashley Cole, and generally failed to control a match, which would otherwise rate as one of the best this season. (Incidentally, Ashley Cole was given plenty of football lessons by the wily Lionel Messi, who tormented him down the right flank on innumerable occasions.)
The English press would love to have us believe that Mr. Farina was a victim of constant surrounding by Barca’s players, who forced him to dish out cards for the smallest of offenses by Chelsea players. That proves two things – I have lots of company when it comes to writers lacking imagination; and that Jose Mourinho isn’t short of company when it comes to whining.
One should hand it to Mr. Mourinho. He had already prepared the press and the public for this. He continued from last season’s rants labeling the reigning European champions as divers. He singled out Eidur Gudjohnsen, a Chelsea man till a few months ago, and wondered how the Icelander could have learnt to dive so fast. It is interesting to note that Eidur poured cold water on these suggestions by scoring a fantastic goal, and Didier Drogba reminded his own manager that he was still the master at the art of going down for nothing. The uninitiated would have commented that Drogba needed a pair of crutches (yeah, he looked right out of hospital, unable to stand). Others would have nominated him for a Razzie – even Jennifer Lopez will do better at acting.
El Mundo Deportivo, the Spanish sports paper, commented that Frank Rijkaard turned into Santino Corleone for a moment when marched right on to the pitch at the final whistle to confront the referee.That was an aberration, because, unlike his West London counterpart, the Dutchman is generally a study in stoicism. Evident from the fact he was the least agitated person in the Nou Camp during the best moment of the match.
It came when Deco capitalized on the first mistake of a woeful night for Bouhlarouz and unleashed a powerful drive past fellow countryman Hilario. It is sad that that amazing goal features so low on the writing list. And that is because the referee would stop the game for the simplest of tackles and challenges. (So bad that I didn’t lower or raise the TV volume for fear of attracting a yellow card!)
The better referees, the Italian Pierluigi Collina, for example, would factor in the nature of the game into their decisions. Frequent stoppages do not allow a high-tempo match to really take off. That is not to say that referees should turn a blind eye to poor tackles and challenges — how they rein in players while allowing the game to progress unhindered is the mark of good refereeing.
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