A lot of talk has been going around about how Barcelona will be aiming for a fifth UEFA champions league title in 10 years, this year. And how that makes Barcelona much superior club to its eternal nemesis Real Madrid.
Real Madrid have won only 1 Champions League crown in the same period which obviously isn’t good enough. But at the very least, Real Madrid fans and supporters can be proud of the fact that our maiden win in this decade was won while playing fair and playing right.
Don’t know what I am talking about?
Let revisit Mark twain for a moment and regurgitate.
““There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography: The Chapters from the North American Review
Just because wikipedia (or UEFA.com for that matter) says that Barcelona won four Champions League in the last ten years doesn’t mean that they actually won it.
Let’s review the critical moments where the referee (consciously or unconsciously because I can’t decide which case is worse) apparently favored Barcelona in key moments of absolute key matches, several times. Yes. You read that right so let’s just dive into it straight away to learn about why Messi and his Barcelona, though great, isn’t as great as some claim it to be.
Champions League 2006 QF: AC Milan-Barcelona
First leg: Ac Milan 0-1 Barcelona
Second Leg: Barcelona 0-0 Ac Milan
The scores alone show how tight a game it was. Barcelona supporters would find it hard to explain where all their Ronaldinho’s and Messi’s were in this game. But that is not the point.
The point is that this was an important game. A quarter final for heaven’s sake and the referee made the worst possible call he could make at the worst possible time.
AC Milan needed an away goal to cancel out Barcelona’s away goal from Guily (from a superb Ronaldinho pass) at San Siro. Barcelona did control the second leg of the tie but as we all know, the better team doesn’t always win in football. It is just the truth of the game.
Andriy Shevchenko, Milan’s talisman, headed the ball after it was lobbed ball into the penalty area of Barcelona. Puyol was trying to throw Shevchenko off balance but was unable to do so. Shevchenko got his head to the ball and changed its direction just enough for it to beat the onrushing goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Everyone thought, Milan got the precious equaliser it desperately needed. But for some exotic reasoning, the referee disallowed the goal and exhorted the players to carry on with the game.
Who knows that could have happened if the referee hadn’t cancelled Shevchenko’s precious away goal at Camp Nou.
Barcelona counted their lucky stars and closed out the game at 0-0.
Now, you could say that this was only one decision. Right?
Wrong. How many decision you want? This is a football game not a maths test where you could get 40 questions wrong and still top your class. This is football, one mistake is all it takes to turn the match at this level of football.
The referee ruined the tie and Barcelona went on to the semifinals and then the finals where it beat Arsenal in an uninspiring match 1-2 after Arsenal were reduced to ten men very early on in the game.
Did Barcelona deserve to go ahead ? Evidence says no. Bad luck happens in football but rarely in such big games.
Barcelona won it nevertheless either through luck or whatever. But it would do Barcelona no harm to earnestly accept that they did get lucky against Milan and partly against Arsenal as well.
That brings down Barcelona’s total of Champions League in the last ten years to three.
But we’re not done yet as Barcelona is a club that has formed some durable ties with UEFA it seems.
It might not be the case but what else is one supposed to think when every critical decision goes in the favor of Barcelona, almost every time.
Champions league 2009: Chelsea vs Barcelona
First leg:Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea
Second leg:Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona
If there was one event that could be labeled as robbery of the century in all of sports, it would be this semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona.
Chelsea locked up Barcelona’s magic trio of Messi, Eto’o and Iniesta in the first leg and went home without conceding a goal. Which is a miracle at Barcelona because, first, Camp Nou’s dimensions are specifically designed to open up teams that play defensively and second, the referee is never sure if his family is safe if he gives a decision against Barcelona at Camp Nou because of it’s unruly fans.
Chelsea came away with a good result and now all rested on the home game against Barcelona.
Essien put Chelsea in front in the first half with a volley that Messi would even dream of scoring with his left foot. The crowd erupted, Barcelona’s morale was decimated after witnessing such a thunderous strike from Michael Essien.
I may lose count but let’s list the number of penalty decisions referee did not give to Chelsea in a single match (in no chronological order):
- In the first half, Dani Alves brought down Malouda inside the box on the wings. The referee bewilderingly said nothing and went to Malouda and warned him about the dive. The replays clearly showed that Dani Alves had put his arms on Malouda to stop him from getting to the ball after a chop trick turned Alves around.
- Anelka was brought down inside the penalty area again on a break when he was onto a through ball. That also looked a clear penalty but the referee stayed firm for whatever reason.
- Yaya Toure slide tackled Drogba inside the penalty area without getting to the ball after Drogba didn’t go down when Yahya tried to manhandle him to the ground. The referee again turned a blind eye to Drogba’s agony.
- Drogba was brought down again when he was put through on goal with a lobbed pass. It was Abidal this time who first pulled his shirt from behind and when that didn’t work, he stuck his leg, from behind, into Drogba.
Drogba, despite his best efforts, lost control of the ball and went down hoping for a penalty on the third time of asking but to no avail.
- Again, Anelka was put through on goal with another through ball into the penalty area. Anelka saw Pique coming across to close him down and he tried to chip the ball across Pique to get a shot on goal from the other side. Anelka did chip the ball but Pique stopped the chip with his hand.
Regardless of the fact if the handball was deliberate or not, it should have been a penalty because you just do not put your arms up in the air in front of you inside the penalty area when you are a defender.
According to the rules, if your hand interfere with the play, it is a penalty regardless of the fact if it was intentional or not.
It was just stupefying for everybody (bar Barcelona fans) to see the referee not even think twice about not awarding the penalty to Chelsea.
- late on in the game, Ballack’s perfect left footed volley was blocked by Eto’o with his arm. Now, even though Eto’o was looking the other away, the ruling stands that inside the box if your hand interfere with the play it should be a penalty irrespective of the fact if you handled it willfully or not.
Barcelona scored a late equaliser with Iniesta and Barcelona went ahead on away goals rule. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention the fact that the match referee added a total of six minutes as added on time. But let’s just stick to what everybody saw rather than delineate on whether six minutes should have been added on.
Did UEFA want to avoid an all English final for two successive years? Did UEFA wanted to see Ronaldo go up against Messi in the final?
We would never know. What we do know is that the referee, for one reason or another, did not award 4 or 5 clear penalty decisions.
Drogba didn’t hesitate for one bit to express his view on the referee to the camera after the match by saying “UEFA is a disgrace”, several times before he was restrained by Hiddink (Chelsea manager).
Let’s be honest, the referee made five or six terrible decision in this semi final which isn’t good enough. Not good enough even by half. For big matches, UEFA should have the best referees. Not someone who officiated in Norway for half his life.
Now, that brings down Barcelona’s total to two legitimate titles in the last ten years.
Barcelona doesn’t look as impressive as before, now does it?
But wait, there’s more because I saved the best for the last.
Champions League 2011: Real Madrid-Barcelona
First leg:Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona
Second Leg:Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid
Chelsea might have been at the tragic end of referee decisions in one leg. Real Madrid had to bear the brunt throughout the 180 minute tie.
Mourinho, by this point, had mastered Guardiola’s Barcelona and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that had Barcelona and Real Madrid played for another thousand minutes, Barcelona could not have scored.
Mourinho played Pepe as a defensive midfield destroyer and he rattled Barcelona’s midfield with his aggressiveness and infinite reserve of energy.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Pepe was red carded in a flash for a tackle on Daniel Alves in the 56th minute of the game (up till then, the score was a solid 0-0 and Barcelona looked hopeless to score against the fortress Mourinho had put out in the form of Real Madrid).
Two reasons why it wasn’t even a yellow card:
- It was a common ball. Whenever the ball jumps up knee high, there is always going to be a 50-50 challenge. The referees usually take that situation into account before giving out a card but this referee didn’t.
- The replay showed, the Pepe didn’t even touch Daniel Alves. That removed the whole premise of Alves getting mauled by Pepe.
The referee was having none of it and after some 3 minutes of Barcelona player’s begging and crying, the referee red carded Pepe.
Real Madrid’s man of the match till that point was off the pitch. To add insult to injury, Mourinho was also sent off after he complained against the decision.
After these events, Real Madrid could not organize itself. With Pepe out of the midfield, the channels opened up for Barcelona (who, by the way love, playing against ten men in Champions League as record show) and Messi (who had been chained inside a box by Pepe) scored two goals in succession to effectively win the tie for Barcelona.
Is it a coincidence that Barcelona scored both their goals after Pepe and Mourinho were sent off?
I don’t think so.
Real Madrid as unrelenting a team as it is didn’t give up and gave Barcelona a good fight at Camp Nou even though Barcelona were up by two goals from the first leg.
But even there, the referee didn’t let match go on to the finish line without another atrocity. Ronaldo was fouled while he was running with the ball towards the Barcelona defense with pace. The referee gave the advantage to Real Madrid and Higuain scored with an expert inside of the foot curved finish to give Real Madrid a 1-2 lead at Camp Nou.
But again, the referee made sure that Barcelona didn’t get into any trouble in the later stages of the game by disallowing the goal. Reason? Ronaldo had hit Mascherano while Ronaldo fell himself after he was fouled from behind.
Reason would argue that since Ronaldo was fouled and hit Mascherano as a consequence of a Barcelona foul, then the play should have been allowed to go on which would have meant a goal for Real Madrid.
For reasons unknown, the referee didn’t have it in him.
Real Madrid were knocked out in the semi-finals and Barcelona went on to win the Champions League.
Would we have seen Barcelona in the final if it wasn’t for a Pepe ridiculous red card and Higuain’s legitimate disallowed goal?
We would never know. What we do know is that the referee messed up and Barcelona got the better end of the bargain.
It is not to say that Barcelona had paid UEFA or the referee’s family was held hostage or something but it does raise eyebrows as to why it is always Barcelona’s who wins titles so controversially?
Since Real Madrid’s injustice Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Real Madrid have won UEFA Champions league but have we ever heard about referee playing a bad role in a game involving the respective champions?
I don’t think so.
That brings down Barcelona’s total (of legitimate won titles) to a grand total of one. Last year, Barcelona won it fair a square, no doubt about it. There may have been errors on part of the referee last season too but none of those errors were blatant enough to warrant a remark from any commentator or supporter of any club.
Statistics don’t always tell you the true story, especially in case of Barcelona playing in the Champions League.
There are lies, then there are dirty lies and then there are statistics.
Photo by Global Sports Forum