Before I say what I want to note, let me first say that if they stay within the regulated standards (i.e. don’t break any rules) home teams can do whatever they want with their pitch. Many teams morph the pitch to suit their game. For example the grass is cut shorter at Camp Nou than most stadiums so it suits our playing style better. Some other teams like to let their pitch’s grass grow a couple of inches more than usual. If it’s within the rules, okay.
Having said that the state of the San Siro pitch yesterday was, simply put, disgraceful. If that pitch meets UEFA’s standard, then things will have to change in the future.
Should it be blamed exclusively for the draw? Absolutely not. There were other, more important issues. Is that field historically bad? Undoubtedly. It’s been relayed 75 times since 1990 and the fact both Inter and Milan share the stadium compounds the problem.
But the thing is, the pitch wasn’t just “bad” – it was extremely dangerous. To the point where there was a conscious decision taken by Barcelona to not get injured. Blaming the disastrous state of the pitch on it being “historically bad” is, sorry to say, a lazy excuse. I saw the pitch against Roma at the weekend, it wasn’t as catastrophic as that.
Therefore it’s logical to assume that Milan was trying to hamper Barca and their playing style with that field. Which is not surprising (and within their right) considering it’s what home teams usually do and they did a similar thing against Arsenal in the first leg of that tie. (Who really should have complained about it because it was so blatant. Had they done it, it would have put more pressure on UEFA to look into the issue).
But it’s one thing to have the pitch to your advantage and another to have such dangerous conditions. In their attempt to handicap Barca, they created a pitch that was probably worse than some relegation threatened teams in administration. It was the extreme example of what can happen if pitches aren’t held to a certain standard. And it’s UEFA’s job to make sure they uphold that standard. If no one’s going to hold Milan accountable, why should they change anything?
Now, as I see it the word ‘complaint’ carries the connotation of childishness and pettiness. As if the one complaining is whining about something immaterial. There are some who are saying that by lodging an official ‘complaint’ Barcelona are whining about something irrelevant and blaming it and nothing else on the draw. That’s off-base.
What a complaint means in this context is: “A statement that a situation is unsatisfactory or unacceptable.” In this case the situation is the pitch. Does anyone (besides Madridistas and Milanistas) believe the San Siro field was satisfactory for a game of football in any way? I sure didn’t. I don’t think Robinho does either.
To lodge a complaint is well within the club’s rights; they have to defend their interests and that interest is doing their best to ensure their players don’t get injured. In a meeting before the game Barca and Milan had agreed the pitch was dry and it needed to be watered. Milan didn’t do it. Had they not asked UEFA to get Milan to release an official explanation we wouldn’t have known that. It gives us real answers rather than assumptions.
If Messi twisted his knee as his cleats dug into a tearing turf and tore his ACL, how many people would begrudge Barca for asking UEFA why it was in that condition? How many people would be outraged after it was revealed Milan broke the pre-agreement to water the pitch? Or angry at UEFA for allow a field like that in the first place?
It would be worse to make a whole media storm about it and not do anything to address the root of the problem which UEFA’s standard of what is an acceptable pitch. Barca didn’t kick up a fuss; they just submitted a complaint – a legitimate one. This is the quarter finals of the UEFA Champions League, the best football competition in the world. Expecting a playable pitch is not unheard of.
By officially ‘complaining’, Barca are also questioning the standards set by UEFA for allowing such a field. That’s important. I would have been annoyed at Barca if they didn’t lodge one, because it was just terrible. There are people who call it whining or whatever, but what they say is irrelevant to me. As stated before, a Club protects its interests and that field was a serious injury waiting to happen. I don’t see any problem with letting UEFA know that.
And it should be noted that Pep has been calling for better pitch conditions for some time. It’s an ongoing issue. At the latest event at Elite Coach Forum, Pep was backed by both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger (of course). This pitch just gives him more ammunition in that saga.
That all said the first leg is over. Milan executed their game plan very well and for that, you have to commend them. (Good ol’ Seedorf’s still got it!) The pitch isn’t the reason we couldn’t finish, nor the reason Xavi was so determined to play through the middle. But it wasn’t an non-issue either. In the future, if UEFA continues to allow such fields to be played on — we’ll see some serious injuries. That’s the real complaint.