BFB at the Box Office: Referees

Night 3 of Kicking and Screening was all about the pooface in the middle. I mean the man in the middle. My previous discussion of K&S can be found herehere, and here; tickets for tonight and tomorrow here. Of all the nights, this was the one I was looking forward to the most because the feature, El Arbitro, focused on La Liga; the movie was also made by Justin Webster, who made FC Barcelona Confidential. My review of that movie can be found here.

The night started, however, with a humorous Italian short called, naturally, L’Arbitro (2009, dir: Paolo Zucca). The film follows a ref that is relegated to the lowest division in Sardinia for taking a bribe in a higher league match. In his first match, on a dusty pitch, he is confronted by the absurdity of this league, with its crazy provincialism–old women run onto the field to beat refs with umbrellas, a player attacking his teammate for stealing a sheep–and fanatical devotion to the hometown team. It is the typical experience of a ref–calls elicit death threats from players and the crowd–until he end when he unwittingly becomes involved in the outcome of the match, which has descended into anarchy. It is, really, all just a rehashing of St. Augustine’s quote: “Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume: one of the thieves was damned.” And, indeed, one is saved and one is damned.

Film Grade: 8/10. Funny, intelligent, and full of surprises, the film takes you from the staid backdrop of an Italian bureaucratic bastion to the farmlands of Sardinia, from the suit-and-tie world to the overalls and pitchforks of the world. The rules of the game are, of course, the same throughout–both in life and in football–but with some twists.

The real refs (rather than the reel refs–har har) were on display in El Arbitro (dir: Justin Webster and Eriz Zapiriain), which followed Spanish first division ref Miguel Angel Pérez Lasa from a match in 2008 between Sevilla (with Alves as captain and Keita also on the field) and Villarreal (with Pellegrini as the manager) to two weeks later when he reffed a Catalan derbi at the Camp Nou. The film team had amazing access to the ref and were allowed to film behind-the-scenes as well as on-the-field action that really shows you the rigors and pressures of being a ref: how hard they train, how much they study the game, what they’re like as people, and how they handle in-game situations.

If you’re unfamiliar with who Pérez Lasa is, you may remember him as the guy who sent off Crynaldo against Malaga (here) this past season or from his performances in this year’s Barça matches: @Tenerife (0-5) in January and vs Valladolid (4-0) on the last day. He’s known as an authoritarian ref who metes out punishment fairly willy-nilly (though he only handed out a total of 9 cards in the two Barça matches he officiated this year) and in the film he really does: 13 cards in all, though no reds, for a variety of offensive, including one for Puyol as he subs off and makes a gesture at Pérez Lasa.

Film Grade: 9/10. I’m sure I’m biased here, but this is exactly the type of film that I enjoy. There was almost nothing left out (perhaps a bit more interview with the ref would have been great, but Justin Webster said afterwards in a panel discussion that Pérez Lasa was a terrible interview, so that wasn’t really included and I can’t really blame him for it) and there was so much included that watching it a dozen times would obviously allow you to notice a bunch of things. It was amazing to hear the way the players talk to the ref, trying to convince him of things (Gabi Milito is a master at this), and it was interesting to hear that the refs talk to the captains about keeping their players under control so that they don’t get a second yellow and get sent off. “I’m watching you” was a constant refrain–at least Pérez Lasa was extremely active in talking to the players, but that may come from his authoritarian approach to the game.

The major negative of this movie is that from here on out I’ll want to see this level of access in every match I see. Enough of the Adrian Healeys of the world telling me how things should be! Speaking of, Adrian Healey was there last night and took part in the panel discussion. First of all, I don’t know why I thought Healey was so much older, but I did. He’s not. He’s barely middle aged. Weird. Alfonso Mondelo was also on the panel and it was interesting to hear their various opinions about technology in sport (they came down mostly on the side of being anti-technology).

I won’t write much about technology here because I think that it deserves it’s own post, but I will say that I generally disagree with the idea that technology undermines the spirit of the game. The margins of error involved in technology are real and they should be minimized, of course, but replacing digital margins of error with human margins of error (extra refs, for instance) doesn’t make the errors more acceptable to me.

I spoke with Justin Webster very briefly after the film, but wasn’t able to ask much before he disappeared off to wherever filmmakers go when they’re not making films. Hopefully I’ll see him tonight and will get his opinion on Rosell and Ingla, who he knows from his FC Barcelona Confidential days. Speaking of tonight: tonight is my final night at the film festival and you should go! Tonight I’ll be there with my lovely better half (I think she would claim to be the better 3/4) so you can meet me and the brains behind the operation. Tonight’s film is Eine Andere Liga, about a Turkish-German woman obsessed with soccer, diagnosed with breast cancer, and struggling to figure out life in general. Sounds…intense. Saturday night, when I won’t be able to attend, there will be some USA-centric stuff when they show The Game of Their Lives so you should go to that. Tickets here!

Something I’ve failed to mention: Kicking and Screening works not just with Play31, but also with COPA NYC. I spoke with their founder, Chris Noble, who was a nice guy. It sounds like the tournament is going to be really awesome. It’s not until July 24-25 (after the World Cup, of course) and then July 31 and August 1 (that won’t be hot…), but keep it in mind if you’re in the area.

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in Germany with his wife and daughter.


  1. ballbeav
    June 4, 2010

    where do people see these movies if not in NYC?

    • ballbeav
      June 4, 2010

      PS thanks for the writeup! sound like good flicks.

    • Soto
      June 4, 2010

      I want to second this question.

      Isaiah, do you know if Kicking and Screaming are doing anything (website, etc.) to make it possible for us non-New Yorkers to watch these movies. Because your great reviews have clearly inspired some of us to watch.

  2. June 4, 2010

    Nice to meet you last night! Thanks for all of your blogs. Great reads!


    • June 4, 2010

      A pleasure to meet you too, Elicia. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the posts.

  3. Jnice
    June 4, 2010

    Just remembered I saw El Arbitro a few months ago on YouTube with no subtitles. It still seemed great and it was interesting to see the preparations refs go through before matches, all their actions during matches, and in general, just all the little subtleties.

  4. ballbeav
    June 4, 2010

    can henry help to pick the chinese lock? 0-0, 60th min.

    • ballbeav
      June 4, 2010

      nope. he looked good for about the first 2 minutes that he was on. gallas had one goal disallowed of offsides and two half-sitters in the box that he couldnt put it away. china beats france 1-0, hardly deserved but it doesnt bode well for baby kxevin’s lads.

  5. Helge
    June 4, 2010

    Wow, Kxevin… tough times for you. Given the current performances of France, I’d say they can be happy to reach as many points as during the Euro 2008, which was 1 point from 3 matches. Pathetic!

    Italy is also playing like crap, but they have an excuse: They simply don’t have any world-class players. France still has quite a good line-up, but the football they’re playing is incredibly bad.

    • Kxevin
      June 4, 2010

      Insert chainsaw up rectum, start motor. That is about France’s chances in this WC. 1-0 to China? Horrific. It goes to show you what an idiot can do. It isn’t that we don’t have talent. There’s talent galore on that side. But it doesn’t have a clue. It’s just street ball out there, which isn’t going to work against disciplined, committed sides.

      • Soto
        June 4, 2010

        France’s situation is Exihibit A against anyone trying to argue that coaches are not that important.

        France isn’t the only traditional dominating country that is looking shaky: I don’t feel that Italy will go far in this Cup either.

  6. tutomate
    June 4, 2010

    Can’t wait to see El Tri vs Les Blues. Might be a nail biter.

  7. vicsoc8
    June 4, 2010

    Group A is turning out to be one of the most unpredictable groups:

    South Africa

    Can’t say any one or two of the teams really stands out as being better than the rest, and no team I wouldn’t give a chance to (it’s hard to bet against the home nation).

  8. Euler
    June 4, 2010

    Pre-tournament performance isn’t particularly predictive of World Cup results, but the France match is really hard to fathom. They have so much talent – not just on the squad but in the country (though roster selection is another issue…)

    Losing Diarra was a blow, especially so late. It caused them to have to radically change shape, but at least initially the players seemed enthused by the switch to a more fluid 4-3-3. Gourcuff and others were talking about enhanced freedom and more room to attack with only one holding mid in Toulalan.

    Any team can get beat on a fluke set piece. But to not even score? Anelka has been terrible up front in the center as the focal point.

    But again, how teams play before the cup hasn’t historically been correlated with how they play during the cup.

    That said – Domenech. What a waste. Too bad they couldn’t have made the move to Blanc earlier.

  9. BA
    June 4, 2010

    “France coach Raymond Domenech said his team were moving in the right direction…”

    “I think we are improving,” said Domenech


    • Kxevin
      June 4, 2010

      Like being stabbed is better than being shot.

      • Ciaran
        June 4, 2010

        At least he didn’t pick his squad based on a dream he had like El Diego. Oh wait, didn’t he once drop a player based on his star sign. Oops. Sorry Kxev

        • Kxevin
          June 4, 2010

          Sighhhhh. I know. Or playing that dimwitted Barthez over Coupet in the final because he had a “feeling,” despite the knowledge that Coupet was better at set pieces, the only way that Italy was going to score against us.

          I think that we will get out of the group, but just barely. After that it’s all up for grabs.

  10. vicsoc8
    June 4, 2010

    Since it’s been a slow day, I compiled the minutes played by our players in La Liga, Copa Del Rey, and Champions League (according to the official website):

    Valdes – 4695
    Messi – 4205
    Xavi – 4098
    Alves – 3923
    Puyol – 3821
    Pique – 3700
    Busquets – 3458
    Keita – 3126
    Pedro – 3126
    Ibrahimovic – 3036
    Iniesta – 2889
    Maxwell – 2576
    Toure – 2268
    Abidal – 2244
    Henry – 1678
    Bojan – 1468
    Marquez – 1317
    Milito – 1084
    Chygrynskiy – 1071
    Jeffren – 600
    Pinto – 376

    The only conclusion I’ve made so far is we don’t need Marquez, Milito, and Chygrynskiy, two of the three will do just fine. What do you think?

    • BA
      June 4, 2010

      well since Milito came back he was pretty awesome, i couldn’t imagine getting rid of him. and Rafa is still one of the best passing center-backs in Europe even if he was a walking disaster last season, in our Treble season he and Pique were our clear first-choice center-back pairing until Rafa’s injury. Chygynskiy shouldn’t be jettisoned after all we paid for him, but i’d agree he should be demoted down to play with Barca B for a season to get a better feel for our system and some confidence by beating up on the youngsters.

      center-back is a position in which a team needs alot of depth, and we have just about the requisite amount. with Yaya possibly leaving i could even see strengthening it, though i would suggest promoting Muniesa or more likely Fontas (who’s 6’2 and pretty physically imposing already at 20) instead of buying someone. Muniesa i know can also play on the right, in case we need cover there (doubtful).

  11. Ciaran
    June 4, 2010

    This summer seems to be all about timing for us.
    As soon as we know how much we get for Yaya we can determine how much we can spend on a replacement DM.
    As soon as Juve decide whether or not they want Caceres we will know whether he could be the possible backup right back or if we have an extra €10million to spend on v.d.Wiel, Ansaldi or whoever.
    The Cesc saga will determine if we go for an attacking midfielder.
    If Ibra decides to leave we’ll probably go for Torres or a left winger instead.
    Confusing eh?

    I don’t know where all of this talk about signing a left back is coming from. Maxwell and Abidal have been fantastic this season… Maxwell getting in many ‘team of the season’ for La Liga.

    Here’s my overall take on things…
    GK: Valdes & Pinto are set in stone for next season. Next summer the Pinto situation will change but for now it’s staying as is.

    RB: Alves is automatic starter. We will definitely be adding someone. Caceres’ future may impact it but in order of preference I would get van der Wiel, Ansaldi or Azpilicueta (even though the transfer fee would probably be too high).

    CB: Pique is the undoubted no.1. I expect either Puyol or Milito to partner him in all the big games. When Pique is rested/injured/suspended is where the problem lies. Marquez is past his best. Botia is gone to sporting. Chygrynskiy is IMO not good enough but may get a chance unless someone makes a reasonable offer. Henrique seems like no one in Barca want him so will be probably loaned/sold to someone. I’d love if we could sign a solid, athletic defender as a sub for Pique and cut the mediocre backups.

    LB: We sorted with Abidal & Maxwell. No changes needed.

    DM: Busquets is Pep’s favourite even though most people would say that Yaya is the superior player. Expect Yaya to head for pastures. Mascherano is the big money player being linked but it would leave us short if you pardon the pun. Moussa Sissoko of Toulouse seems like Yaya v2 so may get the go ahead and would come for a lot less than we would make from Yaya’s sale.

    CM: Xavi, Iniesta & Keita are all good. Expect to add Cesc to that list before the summer ends for somewhere between €40-50million. JDS & Thiago can step up also so we are well covered, even more so than this season.

    RW: Pedro has grown leaps and bounds this season, especially in the second half of the season where, even though he scored less, he done more overall. Messi is no.1 at whatever position he or Pep chooses so if he plays wide right we’re fine.

    LW: If Ibra stays then Villa starts at left wing and we have Iniesta, Pedro and Bojan able to cover. If Ibra leaves then either Villa plays centrally and we buy Mata or Robben or else Messi starts centrally and Villa still plays wide left.

    ST: Ibra should start at the no.9 after a good preseason, with Bojan and Villa able to cover. The only possible change at this is if Rossell wins and forces the Fernando Torres signing at the expense of Ibra.

    That should be a fairly accurate account of the possible comings and goings but feel free to add…

  12. Eklavya
    June 4, 2010

    Kxevin did watch the whole France match? They were horrendous in the 1st half but improved in the second. Gignac is better than Sulking Anelka. The new players are better than the old. France have 0 confidence, 0 winning mentality and 0 motivation. All 3 faults are the coach’s fault. China were a bit lucky with that free kick but was tried after all…

    Gourcuff is really good in indirect free kicks. The ball almost went in the net at the last action of the game (a fk).

  13. Well it looks like Laporta is keeping a hard line stance on Cesc, saying that 35 million Euros is a fair price for the mid. I dont know about you guys but 35 mil is a steal for such a wonderful player, even if he won’t have a clearly defined role on our team.

  14. Kxevin
    June 4, 2010

    Okay, I’m going to upset some apple carts here. It’s my contention that we don’t really want Fabregas this season. It explains the constant tweaking of Arsenal, and the absurd bid that seems to be designed to vex the doo-doo outta the Gunners.

    Our powers that be realize he wouldn’t get a full-time, regular starting role this season, so why not make a nice pretense of going after him without really going after him. Ultimately they can say “Well, we tried as hard as we could, but Arsenal just wouldn’t let him come home.”

    Then he plays out a year or two more, then comes under significantly less acrimony, at a time when Xavi will have a season or two left, and we will know by then how much the future Dos Santos and Thiago are. Word.

    –Hleb will be with the squad for preseason, with the aim of winning a spot in the squad, according to Sport via his agent, who claims that they have already dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with Txiki.

    • Bebop
      June 4, 2010

      I’m not upset at all 😀
      35M, we could buy a good winger/midfielder with maybe less that money. Gourcuff, silva, jesus navas, and others.
      Hell we could buy 2 players with a little bit more money, like M.sissoko and van der wiel.
      Hope what you’re saying is true Kxevin 😀

    • BA
      June 4, 2010

      Hleb is wasting his time. he’s not even been that good for Stuttgart this season, playing his preferred role in a significantly inferior league. there’s no player even in our midfield that i’d look to replace with Hleb and consider it an equal or superior substitution, including our youngsters like JDS or Thiago. we already know Hleb and his agent whine when he doesn’t get enough playing time, and say disparaging things about the club which can’t help in the dressing room.

      jettison him to Bunyodkor or somewhere for the price we paid and save ourselves alot of trouble. i’m sorry but his single season with us he showed about as much aptitude for our squad as Henry did in 09/10, only without a legendary career and 2 good seasons before it. he was a bad buy; it happens. recoup what you can and move on.

      • From what he has showed us in the past, I can’t refute what you are saying, but there is something there with Hleb, remember there was a reason we bought him from Arsenal in the first place. No one thought Milito was going to be our (unofficial) signing of the season last year, but he ended up being a pleasant surprise. There were plenty of times last year that we lacked depth in the midfield and Hleb would have been perfect as a spot starter, or coming off the bench for an injured or suspended Xavi or Iniesta.Regardless of the outcome, another above average body in the midfield can’t hurt at all, especially if he is not costing us a big transfer fee.

    • OMG i have been saying that for the last month!!!! I totally agree with you, lets get him in 2 years when Xavi is starting to slow down. Here is the thing, we plant the seed this year and then next year Arsenal have no choice but to let him go. If not he can leave under (?? I believe it is Article 15 UEFA) where he can (Barcelona) pretty much buy out his contract, which would be less tan 30 million next year, 25 in 2012, and slip out the back door. And I dont think Arsenal will force his hand and make him do it, they will just allow him to come home.

  15. Ahh the dreaded triple post……Does anyone think we could use someone like Luca Modric as a fairly cheap body in the midfield, or is he not quite Barca material. And finally we have to consider some Brazilians, as Rosell seems to have the hook up when it comes to Brazilian born players. He did bring Ronni to us if you remember. This may be a good thing, I would love to see Douglas Costa (LW) and Nymar (CF/LW). Santos are asking €30 million for Neymar and Douglas Cost would run us around €10-13 million as he just signed with Shakhtar Donetsk for €6 in January. Any ways it’s silly season and I fu**ing love it!!!!! lets keep it up.

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