To repeat a cliche – Little knowledge is dangerous.
In today’s TOI, Siddharth Saxena comments on the Arsenal vs Barcelona game, and defends the referee, claiming that the criticism levelled against him is unwarranted because he was going by the rule book – given the challenge that Jans Lehmann committed againt Samuel Eto’o, the referrees decision was justified.
The problem is that Siddharth probably didn’t watch the game, and is probably relying entirely on articles he’s quickly skimmed through. No one, not Theirry Henry, not Aresene Wenger (“It looked a red card, it’s very difficult to contest,”…” “But my biggest regret was their first goal was offside.”), most football pundits – has criticised that decision.
What is not justifiable, and I say this as a neutral who was supporting Barca during the game, are the glaring oversights: Theirry Henry was fouled on numerous occasions, and one felt that most challenges warranted at least a free kick; quite a few warranted a card. At the other end, when Henry got the ball with a tackle that looked bad only because of the way the opposing player fell, Henry was unjustly carded. There was also an occasion where Deco pretended to having been fouled in spite of no contact, seeking a pentalty just around the box. The ref obviously saw that, and waved play on in a situation that on most occasions deserved a card. In the 2002 World Cup, it would have meant a straight red for “simulation”. Samuel Eto’o, for his sheer brilliance in front of goal, deserved that goal, but an offside is an offside.
I’m not disappointed much by the fact that Barcelona won and Arsenal lost. What disappoints me is the manner in which this match was won. Barca should have also been a man down for the fouls (the ref gave one player 3 chances before booking him), and an equal contest would have been thrilling. And of course, Mr. Saxena thinks everyone is criticising the obviously biased ref for the red card. The ref’s clarification and admittance of a mistake that wasn’t particularly glaring, but did have a far reaching impact, is just to divert attention from the fact that he was so blatantly partial. Siddharth doesn’t realise that:
But before we come to that, the referee – hardly the whistleblower, but merely a messenger of the men in suits – needs to be put in perspective. Even in the onslaught of criticism that Hauge will have to endure, and hence admit, like he has, that he erred in not playing the advantage off Lehmann’s foul on Eto’o, the point here is that the Norwegian was merely following the rule book to the T.
The Professional Foul, such a matter of debate and heartburn not so long ago, is outlawed by FIFA. And in the rule book, it is punishable with expulsion, which is what happened with the Arsenal goalkeeper. On the final one-on-one, the German halted Barcelona’s Cameroonian striker’s run when he had a clear shot at goal. As simple as that.
But why berate the referee? He was spot on in recognising the foul and acted in the manner that has been imparted to him. To expect him to play the advantage since it was a game of magnitude only mitigates the point. Would it have been okay had it been a first round tie? And had Hauge actually done that, the world would never have learnt, but he would have had to provide an answer to the stern, faceless body that surgically monitors every move, every action of the referee and comes down heavily in the event of any slip-up. But then, that precisely is the anomaly with the monitoring of a game that has its own complex plot, and doing it through FIFA’s black and white set of rules, honed to keep cheats in check. Entire World Cups are known to have fallen victim to this.
If interpreting the law was left to the referee’s discretion – and provided he was not trying to favour a particular side, as is emerging happened in Italy this gone season – maybe such allegations and counter-allegations will stop, and a final game will automatically become what it is, a finale, rather than it being desperately trumpeted as one.
I suppose that with the World Cup just around the corner, we’re likely to see many such hurriedly prepared, patchy articles on Football.
Update: I told you so.