They are the dark men-in-black and they are always at the centre of attention. For every goal conceded and for every goal scored, there is potentially always a referee to blame. The man with the whistle and his fellow scurrying tosspots are always picked on when anything, absolutely anything, goes wrong in a game of football. Maybe one ought to get rid of them altogether…
Not if you are Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manger might have sent off to the stands during the Gunners’ UEFA Champions League match against FC Sevilla in midweek by referee Eric Braamhaar but he is not complaining. Instead the Frenchman says that refereeing standards have improved with each passing year and is optimistic that the level of efficiency will increase still.
Great words for the referees’ ears but can we accept Arsene Wenger’s words at face value? Maybe not, for this English Premiership weekend provided one more instance of controversial refereeing. In their 3-2 defeat to Birmingham City on Sunday, Tottenham Hotspurs’ striker Robbie Keane was shown a direct red for what referee Phil Dowd felt was a dangerous tackle on Fabrice Muamba. He was also observed discussing the matter with the fourth official.
Refereeing in Spain and Italy are often drawn into controversies for even the most silly of mistakes, especially in Spain where the referees are often blamed for a title loss. But that’s not exactly without any reason though. Both Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi scored Maradona-esque Hand of God goals last season on two separate occasions in La Liga but both those misdemeanors went unnoticed by the officials. Although this season there has been a revamp of the refereeing unit and policies in Italy in the wake of the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, some controversial decisions against Juventus have been pointed out as innate flaws in the referees.
More importantly the football culture differs widely in Europe and often the continental club competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup as well as the World Cup and European Championships are made victims of this disparity. For example, while officials in England allow tough tackles and accept physicality as an indispensable fraction of the game, their counter-parts in Spain reach into their pockets to dish a card or two for far less.
So what is the solution to this? Is refereeing standard indeed improving or is there still need for more improvement? Or should the referees be shipped off to Neverland and video technology be given the green signal?