Blaming the Refs

Caution: This post will enter the fray that is the ongoing debate about refereeing decisions in Italy. A firm non-believer of objectivity in footballing (or indeed: any) matters, I shall not pretend to be impartial on this subject. I will, however, try to be reasonable.

As is well known by all fans of the game of the beautiful country, controversy is a huge part of the calcio experience. Be it simple on-the-pitch brawls, feisty remarks by coaches or presidents in the press or Cassano just being Cassano, the Serie A is ripe with all kinds of controversial episodes making it to the headlines of the three large sports papers and the plethora of websites and blogs such as this one.

This is – mostly – a good thing, as it provides lots of entertainment and debate while still focusing on predominantly football-related stories (how I loathe the celeb-stuff of British media!).

Although it occasionally tends to blow things a bit out of proportion, basically, it keeps the hype going and gives us something to talk about over lunch.

Sometimes, however, you get an unpleasant feeling that all the bickering and conspiracy theorizing is not just coming from the fiery temperaments of the peninsula’s inhabitants, but is actually wisely conducted spin, devised to profoundly affect the performances of the referees. And it seems to work…

Just for the record: I do not wish to discuss Calciopoli here, as it seems the trial in Naples (and maybe subsequent ones as well) needs to be taken into account before any real judgement is passed on that matter.

What is at issue in this post is not the debatable existence of illegal activities (I’ll leave that to the real courtrooms) it’s the legal but rather appalling use of the media to sway the refs in favour of or against a club. I know that this is an old Italian tradition, but like organised crime and political corruption, it’s one of a few national traits I don’t envy my otherwise beloved Italians.

I will not give anyone the satisfaction of writing a cry baby piece of how unfair to Juventus everything seems at the moment, as I think that apart from the Krasic ban, we’ve been treated roughly as good or bad as the other teams.

Anyway, we don’t need to dissect the whole Krasic-affair again to realise the might wielded by Italian media (we only need to look to the prime minister to see the extend of that power). Nor do we necessarily need to play the blame game here, because somehow everyone seems to be in on it.

The circle goes something like this (this is loosely based on last week’s events, cast and content may vary at other times):

The smaller clubs feel ill treated so Zamparini threatens to quit football (again!), claiming Juventus, Inter and Milan never suffer penalties. The weekend comes along, Juve and Inter concede on penalties. Marotta, seeing that this worked for Zampa, cries for justice referring to Milan’s game against Palermo. The rossoneri play the part of the classy, elevated leaders (that used to be Juve’s and somehow never really befitted Inter) until they at some point suffer a blow and eventually cry wolf (or worse: Serb!) themselves. That works, and then Zamparini gets fired up and … You get it, right?

I suppose that this refbashing will continue forever, especially when – by coincidence or not – it seems to have an effect. Personally, I believe that no man in this day and age can be untouched by such media storms, and certainly not the refs ‘responsible’, individually or as a group. Actually, I claim that as a fact. But the discussion of the media and especially Berlusconi’s influence in that respect could be put somehow to rest if everybody stopped blaming the refs every single time there’s a debatable decision or statistic.

The refs make mistakes, and if they do it pro or con the big clubs, it is the story of the week. But why is it that it’s never been a story that Bari is the team to have been awarded the most penalties – or that Parma suffered so many at the start of the season? Firstly, because it doesn’t sell papers and thus generates little revenue for the owners – unlike the battles of the big guns and the huge egos which do exactly that. And secondly (this order is very telling) because some team must be the one awarded the most spot kicks – logically, there’s no escaping it. Often it has even been a good team with a lot of play in the opposition’s box leading that list.

Mindboggingly odd, and in those cases it is of course thoroughly scrutinised! The media circus leads to nothing else than insecure referees who fear controversial episodes in the big matches and therefore become error-prone (you sense the beginning of another vicious circle here).

So, what should be done? Well the obvious thing would be for people to stop reading these stories and quit buying the papers. But as we all know, that’s a battles against windmills a la Quijote. Another appealing solution would be to gag a couple of club presidents and pundits, the trouble here being that we’d have a hard time agreeing on who deserved it the most (and that, aside from the oft heard blabber, they sometimes do have valid points (maybe one in ten) that should be heard – even Zamparini).

The third (and probably the only realistic) option is to let it blow over and hope that another coach will soon be sacked or that Cassano will be acting like Cassano once more so we’ll focus on that while the refs can calm their nerves a bit – until next time …

I realise that this treadmill will turn forever, and I accept it as one of the attributes of the Italian game (in a broader sense). I just get fed up sometimes. Like anybody.

By the way, did you see what I just did? I made you read a long post about a subject I feel should be silenced to death. Well, that’s Friendlies Week for you!

(Thanks to SiciliaToday, Luca di Vito, and CottonIJoe for some great pictures.)

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