BARCELONA totally outclassed Arsenal in both legs of their epic Champions League win. But the contest was effectively decided by a disgraceful red card for Robin Van Persie. It was a shameful, indefensible verdict by Swiss referee Massimo Busacca.
A week ago Manchester United made Premier League champions Chelsea look second rate until referee Martin Atkinson allowed the home side back into the game. The official invited allegations of corruption when he failed to punish John Terry’s blatant handball in the box and then gave a string of dubious decisions in Chelsea’s favour.
Four days later Arsenal were robbed of victory against Sunderland. Seething Arsene Wenger was right to be ‘disgusted’ by the two big decisions that went against Andrey Arshavin. The Russian was denied a clear penalty and a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.
Twenty four hours later Liverpool blitzed United 3-1. But referee Phil Dowd badly let Sir Alex Ferguson’s men down when he failed to send Jamie Carragher off for a shocking foul that put Nani out of the game. Once again it was the pivotal moment in a Big Match.
This is only the tip of iceberg. But it is a worrying trend that is undermining the integrity of the beautiful game. And what makes it worse is the governing bodies’ intolerance with managers who state the obvious.
How dare the FA charge Fergie with improper conduct for stating what every United fan watching the game was thinking when he stated: “It was a major game for both clubs and you want a fair referee. You want a strong referee anyway and we didn’t get that. I don’t know why he’s got the game. I must say that when I saw who was refereeing it, I feared the worst.”
The key fact here is that Atkinson’s incompetence has cost United successive defeats against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Alan Leighton, national secretary of the union representing match officials, demanded an apology from United’s boss for questioning the fairness of United’s defeat by Chelsea. But how about the referees apologising to football fans of all clubs for their incompetence on a regular basis?
Bad refereeing decisions are ruining football, often cost managers their jobs and in the final analysis invariably have a say in who wins trophies and who gets relegated.
It is about time FIFA wake up and introduce the use of technology at our disposal in the 21st century. It is not acceptable in our modern high-tec society that the world watching on television – and the long-suffering fans in the stadium – instantly know when referees have messed up. But nothing can be done to challenge the officials’ decision.
Tennis and cricket have improved the drama and quality of their sports tenfold by adopting technology. Football can do the same.
Admittedly, sometimes there is no way you can challenge a decision as shocking as the one that saw Van Persie red carded tonight for attempting to score a goal when he was marginally offside. But in the vast majority of cases justice can be done.
Tonight justice was done by default because Barcelona were so much more superior than the aggregate 4-3 scoreline suggests. Anything other than a Barca victory against an Arsenal team more shocking than the officials would have been a travesty. But poor refereeing casts a shadow over the Catalans’ passage to the quarter-finals.