Fri, Mar 11, 2011 - Page 19 News List

Wanted for wrecking a game: Barca-Arsenal ref

AP, PARIS

For Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, the Swiss referee “killed” the match. The language was inflammatory, but the sentiment was spot-on.

No ifs or buts, Massimo Busacca ruined one of the most hotly anticipated games of the year when he reached for a red card and sent off Robin van Persie in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

“A total joke,” the Arsenal striker said of Busacca’s lapse of reason. But, really, there is nothing funny about the corrosive damage that such ludicrously poor refereeing decisions have on the enjoyment and credibility of soccer.

And now Wenger and Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri have been charged by UEFA with improper conduct for their comments regarding the referee.

Those of us who think that the sport’s rule-makers are wise to resist pressure for video replays to help referees, who believe that part of soccer’s charm is that decisions are left in human hands and made by officials on the pitch, always feel sheepish, naive and deflated when experienced and supposedly astute people like Busacca get basics wrong.

THRIVE ON CONTROVERSY

Contested decisions are so frequent in soccer that the sport seems to live on a razor’s edge of never-ending crisis involving referees.

However, that suits the suits who govern the game. They thrive off the controversies and debates that keep fans talking. Outrage that Mark Clattenburg did not send off Wayne Rooney for elbowing. Anger that Martin Atkinson was soft on Chelsea defender David Luiz’s cynical fouls. Fury against France’s Thierry Henry for his cheating handball against Ireland that Swedish referee Martin Hansson failed to spot.

Venom from Wenger for Busacca’s petty by-the-book expulsion of Van Persie.

The perceived injustices in every match help make soccer a sport of passion and strangely masochistic entertainment. Bad officiating hurts, but we always come back for more.

How gullible we are, but how sad that referees so often overshadow the skills that players show on the pitch. The focus of Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Arsenal should, again, be the artistry of the world’s best team, not of a referee’s folly.

If video replays did offer real-time help for officials, they would not have made a jot of difference in the case of Van Persie.

Deciding whether to send off the Dutchman because he played on after the referee blew his whistle was always going to be a judgment call, which no machine could handle.

NO BIG CRIME

Van Persie collected a pass from his captain, Cesc Fabregas. The linesman raised his flag for offside. Busacca blew. Van Persie either did not hear or ignored the whistle. He took a step and shot waywardly past Barcelona ‘keeper Victor Valdes.

Hardly the crime of the century. Yet Busacca ruled that Van Persie deliberately wasted time. With no hesitation, he flashed a yellow card. It was the striker’s second of the night. Off he went.

And the match died. With just 10 men against Barcelona’s 12 (11 players plus Busacca), resistance became futile for Arsenal.

Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano criticized Arsenal for blaming the referee.

“Barca always wins thanks to the referee, never because of its play, not for having taken 19 shots on goal, not for having won 74 percent of the possession or completing 900 passes,” Mascherano said on Wednesday. “Let’s not be hypocrites. We didn’t let them breathe and that was the key. We played Barca’s way and that’s why we advanced.”

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