Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Barcelona Brilliance Overshadowed by Red Card

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s Champions League last sixteen tie between Arsenal and Barcelona a large proportion of the analysis focussed on the second half dismissal of Robin Van Persie. The incident was replayed on the TV coverage immediately after the game to see if the moment the sound waves of the referees whistle hit the ears of Van Persie, all the while battling for his attention with the jeers and cheers of the 95,000 crowd crammed into the Nou Camp, could be determined. In the 180 minutes of the two legs Barcelona produced some irresistible football, passing moves that weaved patterns around the Arsenal players as if they were rooted to the spot. For large parts of the tie the Catalan outfit showed many why they are considered to the greatest club side currently playing the game. Surely this should have been the overriding memory of this tie.
Reducing one side to ten men surely affects the outcome of any match but this match was decided over 180 minutes, and not by a single blast of Massimo Busacca’s whistle but by the simple fact that Barcelona have superior players to Arsenal.
Let’s set one point straight, Van Persie was not sent off for kicking the ball away after he was whistled for being offside. For this offence he received a yellow card, then due to his earlier yellow – which was a monument to stupidity – the referee has no choice but to shown the Dutch man the red card. It is fair to say that Van Persie’s second yellow was harsh, some referees would have given it, others wouldn’t. It certainly was a fifty -fifty call. Van Persie argued that the noise in the Nou Camp made it impossible for him to hear the referee’s whistle, a fair point perhaps. Although Van Persie does play every other week in The Emirates Stadium, which has a capacity of 60,355. Last I checked he does not regularly incur the referee’s wrath and get awarded yellow cards for constantly kicking the ball away post whistle while playing at home. However maybe his ears have become so finely tuned to the acoustics in that London venue or perhaps 60,356 is his tipping point in the battle for the attention of his ears between the roar of the crowd and the shrill blast of a referee’s whistle. Only Van Persie will ever know if he heard the whistle, it is worth noting though that the Barcelona defender tracking his run on his left shoulder had pulled up well before the Arsenal forward shot the ball wide.
Even if that yellow card had been a total injustice it was only half the reason Van Persie had to depart proceedings prematurely. His first yellow card was for a petulant push on Dani Alves, when he clearly hadn’t calmed down following his set to with some Barcelona players moments earlier. In receiving this yellow card Van Persie displayed the temperament of a ten year old boy who had his toys taken away. Surely Arsenal who pays him his generous salary should expect more. Van Persie was quoted earlier today as branding his second yellow card ‘a joke’, surely then his first yellow card was the Edinburgh Comedy Festival.
After the match Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was reported to have had an angry exchange with the Swiss referee. One would be forgiven to despair when someone charged with managing a football club cannot even manage themselves when the chips are down. Soccer, as with most other field sports, involves a referee. In these and other sports the referee is always an unknown variable, sometimes they make good decisions, sometimes they make bad decisions and sometimes they make god awful decisions. In the fullness of a season or a competition these decisions usually balance themselves out. Please see Lionel Messi’s goal wrongly disallowed for offside in the first leg of this very tie as an example. Sometimes though when trying to scapegoat a referee a short memory helps.
It has to be said though that it helps Wenger’s cause to focus on the performance of Massimo Busacca rather than his own charges. Wenger was quoted after the game as saying that the sending off was ‘an embarrassment’, one wonders how embarrassed he was at his captain attempting a back heel outside his own penalty area in first half stoppage time, a back heel that went horribly wrong and led to Manuel Almunia picking the ball out of his net seconds later. Surely Wenger blushed a little. Another matter that should be of concern to Wenger over the performance of Busacca was Niklas Bendtner’s composure, or lack thereof, when put clean through on goal in the dying moments of the match. Had Bendtner found the net Arsenal would have been through on the away goals rule and Barcelona dumped out. Bendtner’s touch was awful, and it betrayed his standing as a Premier League striker with some 36 senior international caps, the young Dane showed that is not yet good enough to overcome the hurdle Arsenal faced in Barcelona on Tuesday night.
Wenger is not alone in this regard. Following Manchester United’s recent defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League Alex Ferguson said he ‘feared the worst' when Martin Aktinson was appointed to referee the match. Maybe then Ferguson hoped for the best when Mark Clattenburg was appointed to referee the game preceding the Chelsea match as Untied travelled to Wigan. In this match Clattenburg inexplicably spared Wayne Rooney a red card when he cracked his forearm of the side of James McCarthy’s face.  
Arsene Wenger may never encounter Massimo Busacca again but he will work with his squad tomorrow and for a few years to come. It is madness to worry about things that you cannot change. Things Wenger can change though are the decision making of Cesc Fabregas, the touch of Niklas Bendtner, Robin Van Persie's temper and the ball retention of his entire squad among other things.
Managers may always try to take the focus off things that may lay blame at their own door. Third party analysis of matches should resist the temptation though to follow this charge into the irrelevant, and certainly it should not lead the charge.


Anonymous said...

Agreed. It's becoming the norm to blame the ref at all levels of the sport, which is frankly ridiculous. They were outplayed from the first to the last minute of both games, yet Wenger refuses to mention that. And also, VP's body language is a dead giveaway. He knew fully well the whistle had gone, otherwise there was no way he would have shot the way he did.

March 10, 2011 at 1:48 PM
Anonymous said...

Rubbish...Wenger is a legend! Idiot refs ruining the game!

March 12, 2011 at 5:53 AM
Jimmy said...

Excellent piece..about time someone called Wenger up on this type of carry on...

March 14, 2011 at 6:22 AM

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