REFEREES are often scapegoats, blamed for the shortcomings of 11 professional highly-paid footballers. Top of the agenda at post-match press conferences. Public enemy number one.
Despite the endless criticism, English football is fortunate to have one of the most talented group of officials in the game. The best in fact.
Well-respected and widely renowned, the fittest (that’s most active), the best decision-makers with almost 99% of penalty area calls correct last season, and they can apply something foreign refs are oblivious to. Common sense.
But when the Premier League’s big guns grace the European stage, controversy is never far away.
The Uefa refereeing fraternity are a stickler for enforcing the rules and keeping a tight ship, which is reflected in the approach of those taking up the whistle in the Champions League.
Suggestions of a conspiracy against the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United would be far-fetched, yet the English giants are somewhat disadvantaged when it comes to the officiating style in a high-profile competition.
Consisting of card-happy refs from across the continent, the Elite list are slated for their no-nonsense and seemingly incompetent handling of European ties. Dividing opinion among fans. Frustrating players and managers alike for their stop-start attitude and wrongly differentiating between the accidental and aggressive.
Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini launched a scathing attack on Sweden’s Jonas Eriksson after being undone by Barcelona recently. Even questioning his nationality. Ironic perhaps, coming from a Chilean!
Having tuned in to round two at the Nou Camp, Twitter went into overdrive within ten minutes of kick-off. Unsurprisingly, there was only one topic trending…
French official Stephane Lannoy had a night to forget…
But when it comes to spoiling spectacles and wrecking dreams, he’s not the first. Or likely to be the last.
Cuneyt Cakir, Damir Skomina, Nicola Rizzoli, Alberto Undiano Mallenco and most famously Tom Henning Ovebro have all come under fire for debatable decisions which have contributed to dumping British clubs out of the Champions League down the years.
With many of these officials bound for the World Cup, should participating nations be fearing the worst?
The top-flight in England is arguably the biggest in the world (Spain’s La Liga and the German Bundesliga would beg to differ) and have provided many representatives in the latter stages of European tournaments.
In the last nine years, eight Premier League teams have reached the Champions League final, three have managed to pick up the trophy, while in April 2008, three of the four semi-finalists were English.
Many countries would be envious of such a record, but with that success has come failure. A lot of it.
Distinguishing whether European refs or the governing body have a detrimental agenda to ruin matches can open a dangerous can of worms. When comparing current standards abroad to those in this country, English clubs are suffering badly.
Referees line up with mascot Image by Ronnie Macdonald via Creative Commons/License
Chelsea vs Liverpool Champions League Image by Mark Freeman via Creative Commons/License