Another matchday, another refereeing scandal. It’s gotten to the point where even rational people are flipping out about it, either in defense or in accusatory howls. And as usual with situations such as this, I do and don’t know what to think, so let’s start with what I know I think:
There is no refereeing conspiracy. If you believe that there is, you should stop watching La Liga matches, including ours, because you already know how it’s all going to go, and how the league is going to go.
Have there been refereeing decisions that have helped both big clubs? Yes. Would the league table be different if the refereeing in La Liga was perfect? Yes. Note that this is entirely different from the “Ahhhh, HA!” stuff that entities such as Sport offer up. For me, even based on the matches that I have seen that do not involve the big clubs, the table would be different if the reffing was perfect.
But it ain’t. And it ain’t nevah gonna be, not in the Liga or in any other league, for the simple reason that there is no professional refereeing corps (but more on that later). In today’s EE match vs Betis, a “clear” Sergio Ramos handball in the last minute of injury time, with Betis pressing for a goal, was missed by an official. But look at the video, and ask yourself how “clear” it actually is.
Cules will say “handball and penalty.” EE supporters will say “hit the thigh then maybe the hand.” And there you have it. For me, the point is that such blather has reached the point of absurdity. I have watched that video 6 times, and it is impossible for me to ajudge whether it is a clear, penalty-warranting handball. And that is from every angle, with slo-mo. I still can’t tell.
Now ask yourself in real time, with everything going on in the box, off a shot struck with the velocity of that one, whether any human being can be expected to make the “right” call. Further, what is the right call, and does opponent, match and chronology affect the right call? That is, we often hear that “the official is never going to make that call at x or y point in the match.” Recall the Clasic where Pre-Diarra (Mahmadou, rather than Lassana) bowled over Ronaldinho in the box, late in the match. It wasn’t one of those shoulder-to-shoulder things, where Prem devotees say “This is a man’s game!” No. Diarra simply banked on the moment, and said “You will go no farther.” He was right. The ref didn’t make the call, and the match ended in a 3-3 draw.
Here’s something else that I know: There have been calls that have benefited both big clubs in La Liga, and the most aggrieved parties should be the “other” Liga clubs, because they are the real victims. But they say things or not, and nobody hears them either way, because they’re the little guys. Sour grapes. Couldn’t compete, so they blame the officiating. The real story is how the official’s mistake helped one of the Big Two, because those two teams are the only story in La Liga.
This, of course, is wrong on so many levels. Players, no matter the team, have the right to step onto the pitch and expect a fair, well-officiated match. The fact that Liga officials suck shouldn’t be greeted with shoulder shrugs, for the simple reason that the other victims in this refereeing hoopla are fans, and the Liga itself.
How can anyone take a league seriously, when it is run like an intramural competition in which two teams scrimmage with the other clubs for the big prize? Further, how can any league be taken seriously when week after week, referee incompetence, errors and/or alleged bias becomes the big match story, rather than the match itself.
A few things are happening this season, that make the story much more acute. The rest of the Liga is getting tired of being kicked around. So rather than a penalty shout with us being up 4-0, or them being up 4-0, and the players smile and the fans say “Oh, well,” scorelines are 2-1 or 1-1. It’s at that time that mistakes become Serious, and affect things in a way that cause people to say, “Ahhhh, HA!”
But humans are humans, and they will always be humans. Yet there are solutions.
1. Stop watching if you think it’s all a fix. What’s the point?
2. Create a professional officiating crew, where that is all that they do.
At present, Liga officials have other jobs in their real lives. In addition to those jobs, they make 18,000 Euros per month officiating Liga matches. Iturralde Gonzalez, for example, is an orthodontist. But to show that the Liga is serious about its officiating, create a real, full-time crew of officials. Train them, review them, sanction them for errors, apply standards whereby the best refs get the most money and the most work, as you would with any workforce.
3. If everybody else thinks their officials suck, let’s use officials from other leagues.
So Premiership officials do Liga matches, Liga refs take Bundesliga matches, and so on. This frees officials from domestic influences and that fear of seeing themselves in their hometown newspaper on Monday, wearing Photoshopped jackass ears.
4. Change the system.
At present, the Big Two have too much influence over everything in La Liga. If the league wants to have the cup final at whatever stadium, it should be able to say “The league cup finals will be here.” Going to a team as a supplicant, and being rejected, is stupid. So is someone such as Alfons Godall being able to say, in effect, had we continued to make nice with RFEF, we wouldn’t be having the officiating complexities that we are. That should be an impossible statement to make. That it isn’t is a serious problem. Even more serious is the schism that makes people say “See? Villarato is confirmed.” There shouldn’t even be a question of scandal.
Is Villar more worried about what the Big Two think, or what Sporting Gijon or Betis think about his officials? And what about the officials? 18k is a lot of money. If you have a good real-life job, that’s some serious walking-around coin. That might buy a boat, house rehabs or a lovely vacation. At your core, how difficult would that make it, knowing that either of the Big Two can make your life hell?
In another rabble-rousing assertion, I don’t believe that any cule has the right to grouse about the refs. For the past three seasons, people have made the exact same claims about us, that we were being helped by the refs in all competitions. There’s even an absurd blog post that alleges Tom Ovrebo changed the destiny of Chelsea with his officiating in the fateful Champions League match. Wow. That’s heavy.
But when people have said that, and we were on the winning end, we’ve said “The refs are fair, and do the best that they can. Sorry you feel hard done by, but hey, that’s life.” Because it is. Even when the shoe is on the other foot. For the record, refereeing is a hard job. If calls are difficult to make in slo-mo, imagine how they must be in real time, at full speed. And those are human beings making those calls.
If anyone has watched biathlon competitions, you’ll know what I am talking about when I say that another thing affecting ref decisions might be the intensity of the match. A biathlete has to ski as fast as they can to a set of targets, get it together, then shoot those targets out from distance. As a little trick, go outside and find a sign or something with words on it. Stand there and read it. Now run 50 meters as fast as you can, then go back and read the same sign. Maybe your eyes are watering. Maybe the vision is a bit blurry. Maybe.
Maybe a Liga official who has had to run the length of the pitch isn’t quite as together as he should be. Note sometimes how many screwed up offside calls come from officials who are following the play, or getting back into position. Does the fact that it’s a tough job excuse errors? Absolutely not. But we should never forget that these are human beings who are not doing their full-time jobs.
Would making a full-time, professional officiating crew fix that? Possibly. Because you also have the influence of the Big Two and their press entities causing stress in officials’ lives in other ways. And this doesn’t even get into the power to influence elections and who holds a key job such as head of Liga officiating.
La Liga has a problem, and the perception of the officials is just one aspect of it, even as that aspect sprouts tentacles that reach into other parts of La Liga and its overall perception. We often chafe at the notion that La Liga is like the SPL, but it’s easy to see how an outsider can feel that way. The Big Two run everything, win everything, boss everything. It’s easy to see how an official can cavil at making a call that might affect one of those entities. What helps the quality of the officiating in the Prem is that there’s Arsenal, Chelsea, United, Liverpool, Manchester City as 5 big, giant clubs, rather than two. Stalwarts such as Spurs and Everton are also up there.
Contrast that with Sevilla, and Jose Del Nido’s Quixotic tilts about TV revenue, and how nobody really cares because the Big Two are going to do what they want, and that’s that.
Or none of this might be true, and Liga officials might just suck. No influence, no other factors beyond their deep-lying suck. And that’s still a problem, because suck always manifests itself at the wrong times.
I wonder what cules would be saying if we were the ones up 10 points, and had people saying that the only reason we are is because of officiating. That’s what I always think about when I think about officiating, and making accusations that the fix is in. Because the fix isn’t in. Human beings are screwing up, either from fear, incompetence or a cocktail that mixes the two.
What’s clear is that this problem needs a solution. Now. Thoughts?