clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Referees in La Liga: A Fan’s Cry

Maybe some clear direction would help, or at least defuse controversy...

Villarreal CF v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images

A wild match today at the Bernabeu produced more controversies—Madrid had three goals ruled offside, Las Palmas and Madrid each scored a penalty, etc....

Alaves, trailing Granada, had a perfectly legitimate equalizer waved off for offside which clearly wasn’t (i.e. onside by a yard).

Villarreal had a Bakambu goal waved off for...well, we’re still not sure why. Two penalties awarded (one for each side) and Osasuna clamoring for another one they didn’t get.

I assume Barca-Gijon might have had something too, I don’t know.

So, forgive me if a simple fan weighs in on all this:

(1) Offside. Sure, we’re all having fun drawing lines over the pitch, or (as a Spanish TV show did this evening) slowing the action down to frame by frame and concluding “so-and-so was offside by 14 centimeters”, but let’s get real here. Close calls can be replayed time after time and we can sit down in the studio and decide what was right, but those are difficult calls to make and no one will always get them correct. One person--the linesman—is responsible for seeing the position of the attacker and defender at the time the ball is kicked—especially in cases where the pass is coming from distance, it’s a tough call. (For what it’s worth, I think 1 of the 3 goals of Morata’s that was waved off should have counted; I also think Isco’s goal should have been waved off for offside, so it’s a wash).

However, there are egregious errors, and those are inexcusable. Betis’s goal against us in the opening match of last year was an example, so too the Alaves goal today. Does any linesman ever get punished for these sorts of mistakes? It doesn’t seem so.

(2) Handball. Exactly what is a handball in Spain—and when it is punished with a yellow card and when it is not—is unclear. Villarreal’s anger with Gil Manzano was that he awarded a penalty for a handball which referees have been told is not one—i.e. when a ball rebounds off a player and hits your hand, you are not deemed to have had the ‘intent’ required for handball to be called. Beyond that, referees have little instruction that I know of. And will he suffer any consequences for his mistake? Who knows.

Referee Borbalan, in my view, applied the handball rule correctly twice in the Madrid-Las Palmas match. Sergio Ramos dived headfirst to stop a shot and, with his arms close to his body, the ball clearly hit an arm. Later, a Las Palmas defender turned his body to block his shot and the ball hit his arm. Now in England, or in the Champions League, maybe neither is called—they tend to want to see the arm extended in an “unnatural position” to block a shot before calling handball. But to me, if you are moving your body in such a way that you put your arms in the ‘range of fire’, that’s intent. That’s how this referee applied the rule—but is that official guidance?

(3) Penalties. La Liga referees award a lot of soft penalties. And as a result, the players often play for them. For example, Roberto Soriano won a penalty today for Villarreal that was—to Spanish eyes—unquestionably a penalty (and to be fair, the defender who pulled him back didn’t protest). In England, I can hear the commentator now saying he “went down too easily”. Same for Osasuna’s Sergio Leon—yes, Mateo Musacchio made contact with his foot before the ball, but Leon milked it for all he was worth. I doubt that’s a penalty in many leagues. On the other hand, later in the match Musacchio practically undressed Leon, and there was no call—I suspect because Mateo was in front of Leon the entire time, so it was more a tussle of equals. Fair call, but Leon clearly expected that by falling over he would be awarded a penalty. I feel for the referee in these sorts of situations.

My main thought after writing the above is that I wish it were possible to have a conversation about how good—or not—the referees and their crew were, without everything turning into a pro-Barca or pro-Madrid conspiracy theory!! It doesn’t do anyone any good if referees and linesmen who make egregious mistakes aren’t punished for them; it does no one any good if a referee who does a good job in a difficult situation isn’t recognized as such.

And it also does no good for the referees’ council to jump to the defense of every referee, whether they did a good job or not!!

Finally, it would also help if the league assigned referees to matches based on their performance, without giving the large clubs an opportunity to veto them. We all know it happens. And for that matter, for God’s sake, every other league publishes their schedule in the close season so fans know exactly where AND WHEN—down to the hour—their team will play. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for fans from overseas to plan trips to see their teams in action when we don’t know if a match will be Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or Monday?

I live in hope. Un abrazo....