Thursday, May 7, 2009

Referee outclassed by two modern stars - Margin

Fans were nearly robbed of the Champions League final we all wanted. Worse still we were nearly given the one final most likely to make us watch something else that night. So it is a sad feeling to have to credit referees for our good fortune.

While the result would always carry interest, most of us have the sense not to watch another Chelsea-United finale. The FA Cup Final was awful. Last season’s European equivalent was even worse. And it is hard to see why this season’s version might have been different.

I know that will be especially hard for Chelsea fans to read. Manchester United were equally to blame for those finals. But United were always going to outclass a much inferior Arsenal over two legs. Indeed only bad refereeing in the first leg kept that semi-final alive until the start of second, and it died as a competition soon after. So Chelsea had to be sacrificed.

Not that I’m claiming conspiracy against a repeat final. Four overlooked but plausible penalty claims, two of which were actually nailed down certainties, might signal some sort of bias. But I’m not keen on such talk. Instead consider this my cathartic effort to resolve my relief at the result with my displeasure at its manner.

As I say, the Norwegian in the middle last night had four big penalty calls and got at three of them wrong.

I’ll forgive him the first as the foul started outside the box. Besides, I don’t think running into a defender and flopping to the floor in hope of a penalty, even if you have previously been hindered, is the same as being bought down.

And I’ll forgive him the second. Not because it wasn’t a penalty. It definitely was. But I’ll forgive him the second because it was Drogba, and everyone with an ounce of common sense assumes it is a dive when Drogba hits the deck. Refs would simply get far more decisions right than wrong by assuming he’s cheating every time.

That said I can’t forgive him or his linesman for the third. It was a clear handball, and even if I were generous enough to the defence to suggest it was unintentional, it would still be a penalty.

And I won’t forgive him the fourth, which I can only imagine he bottled because it was so late in the game. He had a clear view, an arm went up, it was struck by the ball, and it was in the box. He panicked and Ballack was understandably incensed.

But to overcome conspiracy arguments lets not forget two rather large decisions that went the other way over the two legs.

One was a second awful sending off in two days, which thanks to idiotic Uefa rules will now see two players miss out on deserved cup final places. It was simply not a foul. Anelka ran by Abidal, cut across him, and having broken clear he clumsily tripped himself up rather than running on to score. It was a sad moment that cost Chelsea dear, but not because of the ref.

The other came long before that, and in fact long before kick off. That decision was not to give Barcelona a clear cut penalty when Henry was pulled down as he attempted to shoot in the box. It is easy to forget how much better Barca were in the first leg, and how much they deserved a goal. But that also means it is easy to overlook how easy a second leg they might have had with a 1-0 advantage.

Were Chelsea forced to throw men forward, Barca, like ManU at the Emirates, might have done what they do best. Hit fast and hard on the counter attack and run rampant as a result. We saw that game plan work the night before, and though there is no guarantee the same would have happened last night, it is hard not to draw lessons from watching Barca do just that to so many teams over the course of this season.

So claims of conspiracy, as comforting as they might be for Blues fans this morning, are a little weak to say the least.

Instead we should enjoy the two real moments of absolute class that separated the sides.

Essien and Iniesta are by far and away my favourite two players at the two clubs they play for. They are to my mind their sides’ Paul Scholes – the players without whom the entire team simply functions less well right across the park.

I don’t know exactly what it is about each of them, as different as they are to each other. But to see their influence and class rewarded with two such stunning goals was wonderful.

Essien’s was all about the energy and enthusiasm with which he attacks any ball or space at any stage of any game. And the power of his quickly hit volley was breathtaking.

Iniesta’s was all about his enduring composure. In the dying seconds and with everything riding on one touch, he calmly stood, awaited the ball, picked his spot, and stroked the ball home from the edge of the box. Refusing to be rushed is his trademark.

So hopefully when tempers calm and the replays of ranting players stop, people will remember that Essien and Iniesta gave football two fine moments of inspiration last night.


offside said...

This one really requires perspective. And when you consider the two biggest crimes committed in last night's game, Pep Guardiola's tie and Malouda's hairstyle, then you realise it was a fair result. Just.

Allout said...

Re the penalty claims I didn't think number 2 was a pen. Both attacker and defender had a piece of each others shirt and Drogba just fell over. Number 4 hit the defender around the armpit so not handball. So considering that the foul for number 1 started outside the box, the only one that Chelsea were unquestionably wrongly denied was the Pique handball.

Best to everyone

guitou said...

Piqué, no dout about it, but on the other hand Abidal red card was a little harsh -it's Michael Essien who should have been red carded for stealing the show.
Aulas biggest mistake was to trade him 3 years ago-
As for the ref no way from Norway, Ovredo sounds catalan to me, and this explains it all-Plus the chances that he preferes Costa del sol over Cornwall for summer recreation give him another reason for favoritism-However let's not forget Chelsea's trip to Rome was cancelled by Iniesta only and he did it manu militari leaving the blues singing "arivederchi Roma" then, the ballacks, drogba, terry low life side show took place as usual-Anybody thinking those guys deserve to be celebrated as true champions should remove the blinders for a minute and review the tape!
Regarding Manu-Barça after all it's not bad , it's the grand final the world of football is wishing for-Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta, on the menu with a chance of enjoying more spectacular dribbling and scoring.
Ovredo The spaniard from Norway will be home watching a game of true champions-

mountainstriker said...

Hi all, been away for a while so am a bit late here - sorry. I saw the game and the aftermath and was minded of both my article on the Respect campaign from last September and the more recent effort on Mourinho and Clough.

Clough would have despised this Chelsea team's petulance and co-ordinated intimidation of the referee. Yes he was crap but that's football and it was interesting to see Hughes, Bruce and the rest talk about how we have to understand that it's all heat of the moment. It's not and neither is it at all acceptable for a top team to behave in such a way.

If Drogba et al get off lightly it's open season on every referee in every park across the country. The Respect campaign will be just so much pointless paper. I hope UEFA ban them from Europe for a season. It's a great opportunity to sort out one of the major problems at all levels of the game. I just hope they don't bottle it.

offside said...

I feel Margin's excellent piece deserves more comment. Maybe write about something a bit more controversial next time, hein?

Margin said...

Thanks for the comments guys.

And I don't mind there not being very much comment Offside. Just so long as the right people respond. And you all have...


Oh - and I completely agree that the ranting and shouting was well out of order and not surprisingly most severe by those players who let their team down over the 90 minutes.

I noticed that none of Anelka, Essien or Cole took their turn with the ref, and I'd already picked those players out as the ones who had for the most part played quite well.

Wooley said...

Given Drogba's behaviour in the previous season's final, was anyone really surprised when he had another primary school snivelling fit? The 'at least he cares' defence can only go so far.

It seems to me that everytime John Terry and Frank Lampard start to look and sound like normal, likeable, human beings, something like this happens, they rush to the defence, and we're back to square one.

I agree with Margin. Whether Chelsea 'deserved' to win is less interesting to me than the fact that their strangely characterless looking team were defeated by a moment of pure inspiration.

Perhaps also not a complete coincidence that the two sides who lost in the semi-finals were the ones who made little or no effort to get themselves that vital away goal?

Margin said...

Wooley - Thats something everyone has glossed over - that both the teams who started away tried to hold a 0-0 draw for the second leg, and went out.

But then perhaps thats because both those sides were undergogs compared to their opposition.

bluedaddy said...

Unsurprisingly I disagree with quite a lot of this, but it's water under the Bridge now, and we'll move on and try to win something else.

My view is that Hiddink and the Chelsea players very nearly outsmarted what is widely agreed to be the best attacking side in the world, and to a large extent did it fairly and squarely, employing the talents they had to the best, or near best, of their ability. Chelsea were bloody unlucky, but shit happens, and some of the players should just have sucked it up. The referee embarrassed himself, though the Abidal red card was one of the few things he got right (according to no less than Abidal himself).

When the best teams come up against each other, there is as often as not stalemate. Let's face it Barca vs Man Utd last year produced a pair of games that were light years beyond dull. Christ I think even I would rather watch us lose the Barca tie all over again til the end of time than watch that Barca/Man Utd tie again in 'highlight' form.

I hope it's an entertaining final, but don't be surprised if you end up yearning for a bit of Chelsea-inspired drama before the end of the night.

Margin said...

your disagreement surprises me BD

Chelsea were very unlucky. And had one of those penalty decisions been given or Drogba not fluffed his lines, Chelsea would probably have won.

But with United already in the final I think a lot of people were hoping for Barca to win, and had the ref given them their penalty in the first leg they probably would have done so as Chelsea could not then have played to their own strengths.

And I completely agree that when the best teams play there is often a stalemate. It is a shame but it is part of the price for watching high takes games. As I said, ManU were as much to blame as Chelsea for their combined dull finals.

MotM said...

I'm with BlueDaddy. I can't stand Barcelona's holier than thou attitude and approach to the game that almost demands points for artistic interpretation. How many efforts on goal in both legs? How over-rated is Messi? La Liga must be like the SPL and he like Charlie Nicholas.

Chelsea had a plan and all but executed it. The ref may or may not have been bought, but if he was, he was always going to give a few the other way - the convincer is always a part of the long con.

Man Utd will win by three clear goals.

Margin said...


I agree ManU will probably win - although I disagree with your 'artistic impression' comment as unlike Arsenal they do actually win trophies with their pretty football. Three players with over 30 goals is quite something too.

And while Chelsea had a game plan and deserve credit for nearly pulling it off, that was somewhat facilitated by the ref not giving the penalty for a foul on Henry in the first leg.

And even then - with the gameplan in tact - a moment of magic by the one Barca player who most embodies their high-minded football was all it took ten men two minutes from time to screw that gameplan up.

So Chelsea's gameplan couldn't have been that strong or well executed.

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