The Rational Ref

Blunders are part and parcel of the game we love

Players are just as guilty of making mistakes as officials, so Uefa should highlight and punish everyone's errors or let it ride

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 April, 2013, 4:19am

To err is human and to really foul things up takes a soccer referee, apparently.

In three of the four Uefa Champions League quarter-final matches following April Fool's day, there were glaring howlers, which made some wonder if it was not just one huge European joke. Some were appalling mistakes at the hands of match officials, but similarly there were disgraceful mistakes made by players and coaches. However, the blame is squarely crosshaired on match officials.

The biggest howler was by German referee Wolfgang Stark, who officiated the first-leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona. Stark's shocker is every referee's worst nightmare - an incorrect interpretation of the rules.

After allowing Barcelona players Jordi Alba and Javier Mascherano to be treated on the field, Stark told both players to go off and wait to be called back on. The players protested because they actually knew the rules. It is now not required for players to leave the pitch when "players from the same team have collided and need immediate attention". This amendment was introduced two seasons ago because it was considered an unfair advantage to the other team when two players from the same team had to leave the field following treatment.

This incident is a rare case where the players knew the rules better than the referee. Even though this blunder had no impact on the match, Barcelona did not win and therefore complained to Uefa.

There was also another howler in the match. During a free kick, PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored from an offside position.

In the Bayern Munich and Juventus match, English referee Mark Clattenburg missed a horror tackle, when Bayern's Franck Ribery scraped his studs down the right calf of opponent Arturo Vidal. That should have been a red card, with Ribery facing a three-match ban.

In the third Champions League match, Galatasaray coach Fatih Terim was incensed when Norwegian referee Svein Oddvar Moen did not award two penalties to his side against Real Madrid. The first was for an alleged handball by Sami Khedira. The second was a stonewall spot kick as Sergio Ramos trod on Burak Yilmaz's foot in the penalty area. But instead of a penalty, Moen cautioned Yilmaz for diving.

Rational Ref does not condone these mistakes made by elite Fifa referees. However, let us contrast the huge complaints directed at soccer referees with the more measured acceptance of rugby referees. For instance, the crucial refereeing clanger at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens final between Wales and Fiji hardly kicked up a fuss among players, coaches, fans and the media.

Unfortunately, there is no measured tolerance towards soccer referees since players, coaches and other stakeholders prefer to complain loud, wide and high. We can see the hypocrisy by looking at the bigger picture of those Champions League howlers.

Barcelona initially erred because two of their professional players, through their own stupidity, collided with one another. Replays then showed Alba and Mascherano raising their heads to sneak peeks at play before staying down in an attempt to deceive the referee to stop the match. Clubs cannot have it both ways. If clubs are adamant about highlighting referees' mistakes, then they should likewise accept close scrutiny of their own poor performances, which includes identifying all the times their players cheat by play-acting and deceiving the referee.

For PSG's offside goal, David Villa made the mistake that led to the goal by fouling Marco Verratti in a dangerous position just outside the penalty area.

There is no excuse for Clattenburg missing Ribery's raking challenge, which is a similar blunder to fellow professional Mark Halsey's recent mistake regarding Callum McManaman's studs-up horror tackle. However, unlike the impotent FA, Uefa should take strong retrospective action. Remember, Michel Platini claims his idea of using extra match officials enables them to "see practically everything that happens on the pitch". The match officials have clearly erred, so Uefa should show solidarity and support them. Applying sanctions retrospectively will send a clear message to players to behave.

Instead of criticising refereeing decisions, Galatasaray coach Terim should blame his players for conceding goals due to basic mistakes and for missing two golden chances. In fact, Terim made the biggest bungle because he wrongly chose an aggressive game plan for an away fixture, especially considering Real Madrid's strength in counter-attacking.

Now that the quarter-finals second-leg matches are concluded, it is par for the course that bitter comments and accusatory fingers will be directed at match officials. This week, bitter losers Malaga and Galatasaray have already taken their parting shots.

It is unfair to only blame match officials since players and coaches make similar, if not worse, mistakes. Therefore, either everyone complains noisily about all the mistakes in soccer or, as demonstrated by rugby, everyone should accept human errors and just get on with playing the game they claim to so dearly love.