Many times I’ve considered writing a piece on this and then discarded the idea, deciding it better not to get into something so controversial. But now it’s gone beyond the point where I can take it. I don’t even have the time to be writing this but I am so infuriated right now that I have to do this, to vent everything.
Barca has been less than perfect this season. They’ve had off matches, tired matches, matches where no one really showed up and the team didn’t do well; they’ve been plagued with a vast slew of injuries and endless fatigue and fitness problems and they’ve suffered for it points-wise. This is normal. Especially since they have a shorter squad and more competitions and players with weaker physicality than most teams. All of this goes towards accounting for them dropping some points, which is the normal thing for any team to do. No one can win all the time. In the season of 2008-2009, Barca’s fantastical season of the unprecedented treble, of the six cups, of the tiki-taka and the stunning football, the season in which they soared high above any team in the world – even that magical season saw them drop their fair share of points, most notably during a ‘mid-season crisis’ consecutive five-match period consisting of three draws and two losses. That was normal. Like I said, no team can win all the time.
Yet it seems that Real Madrid can. After a stumbling start to the league that saw them drop points twice, once in a draw against Racing and once in a loss to Levante, they went on to win every single Liga match thereafter bar a 3-1 loss at the Camp Nou. Barca showed their superiority to Real Madrid in that Clasico, yet here they are struggling to scrape up their three points as each Liga weekend comes and goes while Real Madrid cruise past every opponent. And now Real Madrid sit 10 points clear of Barca on the league table.
If Real Madrid were surpassing all their opponents thanks to any kind of football display befitting to the results they’ve been getting, with anything like the stunning performances that account for these kinds of victories, like say, Barca in their treble season, I would shut right up admit they deserved it. But when the reality seems sadly to be that their success is thanks to the people who run this league going far past the obvious in blatantly helping Real Madrid to the title, I can’t sit quiet.
In all my six years of watching football I’ve not seen anything like this. Is it normal that Real Madrid can hardly go two matches in a row without getting penalties dished out to them like candy? Or without opposition players getting sent off against them for non-fouls? While their players can repeatedly commit the ugliest of offenses and not get carded, let alone sent off when deserved, little less concede penalties when they’re called for? That in three instances where Real Madrid’s opponents managed to score against them first – Atletico, Bilbao and Levante – the incident was each time followed by a sending off for the opposition and a penalty for Real Madrid to level the score? That Real Madrid have received by far more penalties this season than any team in Europe’s top five leagues, and one fifth of all the penalties in La Liga – in a league of twenty teams? That they’ve been awarded at least twice as many penalties as any other team in the league, and not a single penalty has been given against them? Referees make mistakes, yes, but the possibility of so many calls wrongly going in Real Madrid’s favor being merely coincidental is, at this point, no longer reasonable.
Week in, week out Real Madrid are flagrantly supported by match officials. Look just a week back, for example, at the visit they paid their Madridian neighbors, Rayo Vallecano. It makes me sick just to think of how the heroic Rayo were, like others before them, disgustingly robbed of their right to compete fairly. For their repeated offenses that should have gotten them both sent off in that match Ramos and Pepe went unpunished, with Pepe not even getting a yellow card before the 90th minute. Ramos elbowed a Rayo player in the face inside the box, an offense like the one, it is worth noting, the Spanish federation once gave Patrick Kluivert a five-match ban for as a Barca player. Yet here Ramos was not shown so much as a yellow card. His victim received one instead, for protesting, and Rayo were denied the penalty they should have gotten. It was only a matter of time before a Rayo player got sent off altogether for what was nothing but a clean tackle. Ronaldo scored Real Madrid’s only goal in the second half, off what was their first shot in a game in which Rayo was superior, and Real Madrid took home the three points. After which, in his post-match press conference, Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho actually complained about the refereeing, insulting the fourth official.
This he had the nerve to do although it was a near crime that his team won that match. But it’s nothing new, is it, that Mourinho should complain about the refereeing – and a lot of other things – even when he has no reason to? We’ve seen him do it countless times before and his endless accusations have intimidated referees into tip-toeing around his team in the past, but what is going on right now is a little more than intimidation. It’s enough to point out that Barca’s triumph over Real Madrid over the past three years and Madrid’s inability to overcome them – despite going through more than three different coaches and more than three hundred million euros’ worth of new signings – has been quite frustrating; that Mourinho has been driven to the edge with the personal battle he’s been waging against Barcelona; that he is not a man of honorable means and that his time at Porto was embroiled with referee bribing scandal; that Real Madrid’s administration have bestowed him with more power than a coach ever had at a club and buy into all of his whims; and that the royal club has a certain amount of influence within the forces that run Spanish football.
Rayo player Piti, who was lucky to escape serious injury after suffering a gruesome stomp on his ankle from who else but Pepe, was not afraid to point out the imbalance in the Liga officiating after the farce of a match that joined his team with Real Madrid: “It’s frustrating Madrid players can do what they want. You can’t understand why the referees are afraid to give them cards. The referees favour Madrid week after week. Someone should act, this can’t continue like this.” The reporter he was talking to then asked him if he thought referees were afraid to call against Madrid because Mourinho would wait for them at the parking lot (which we are coming to), to which Piti responded, "Apparently."
Sadly though, not everyone can afford to be so honest with their words, even those with more reason to be fed up than Piti. Just as the wind sways in Real Madrid’s favor, it simultaneously goes hard against Barca’s. Week after week the Catalan team sees its goals cancelled, its players called offside when they aren’t, its opponents allowed goals that are offside and its penalty claims repeatedly denied. Many of the occasions in which Barca dropped points this season came down to such decisions, and neutral observers have pointed out how this repeated bias in officiating is to thank for the extent of the gap between Barca and Madrid. Yet as the ones with the most to complain about, Barca’s members keep up an honorable stance of refusing to comment on the situation, even as week after week they are endlessly prompted and pushed by journalists who see what is going on asking them what they think about the unfair decisions.
The referees have a tough job, we should overcome any wrong decisions, we will not talk about them, there is no point in talking about them. This is the Barca consensus. Mourinho and his men may comment and complain about the officials liberally, but Pep and his players stay reserved. The most they’ve done is for Pep to reflect that Barca have not done so badly to be ten points behind, and for Mascherano to point out that talking about the referees is a lost cause beforehand. Masche is right in that if Barca did try to complain it would be futile. The officiating would not change. But I wonder if he also knew, when he said that, the full extent of what damage would be caused if a Barca player were to say something about a referee, as happened for once after Barca’s game against Sporting Gijon two days ago.
The match was a more than frustrating one for Barca. Once again, everything was going against them. After Barca had already had a goal disallowed and two penalties denied, the second half saw Pique get sent off for an offense just like two already committed by Gijon players on Keita and Dani Alves – the difference being that Pique had committed it outside of the box while the other two instances were inside of it. If it weren’t enough that Barca was denied penalties both of those times, it stood to reason, at least, that if Pique’s instance deserved a red card than so did the other two. Yet only he was shown one. Barca were denied another penalty when a Gijon player pulled a handball inside the box, and the referee didn’t let the match go without giving a yellow to just about every Barca player, and Pep too, for who knows what. Yet despite the adversity Barca pulled through and triumphed with a hard-earned 3-1 win, one that felt so much greater than the scoreline because of what the team overcame to obtain it.
Following the match the press were on Pep and the players like hawks. Say something about the referee? Wasn’t he unfair to you? This same referee denied you two penalties against Valencia, what do you think? What do you have to say about so many ref decisions against you?
We don’t talk about the referees, we just have to overcome. The Barca boys repeated their mantra. Pique however was a little less reserved in his words, and suggested that the red card he was shown had been premeditated, saying that the referee had probably wanted to give it him because he’d protested for Keita’s penalty claim during the halftime.
Now let’s pause here and wind back a little to the last time Barca and Madrid faced each other, the 2-2 match on the Camp Nou in the Copa Del Rey quarterfinal. Any neutral will tell you that Teixeira, the referee in that match, was equally horrible towards both teams, making bad calls that harmed them both and clearly not favoring one over the other. Ultra pro-Madrid paper Marca even suggested that he wronged Barca more than he did Real Madrid. Yet Real Madrid somehow seemed to see that he had been purely biased against them, and their captain and coach didn’t mince their words in telling him so. Casillas insulted him in the tunnel and told him to ‘go celebrate with his Barca friends’, and later admitted to doing so, writing it off as ‘the heat of the moment’. Mourinho surpassed himself by actually going to wait for Teixeira in the parking lot to insult him, something that was caught on camera as well as confirmed by his own spokesperson. Meanwhile, Barca kept reserved as usual.
Such disrespectful behavior by Real Madrid’s captain and coach towards the referee surely warrants some form of punishment, yet the federation didn’t seem to think so. Then again, they didn’t think Pepe’s ugly stomp on Leo Messi’s hand a week before should be punished either, treating it like a joke with their claim that they might have looked into it had Messi had a finger amputated. Rather, the federation seemed to agree with Real Madrid that the referee, though his decisions had caused as much harm to Barca as to Madrid in that game, had been unfair purely to Madrid. Subsequently, Teixeira was banned from officiating any more Real Madrid, and only Real Madrid, matches again.
This is more outrageous than I can say. At this point they’re no longer just helping Madrid forward, they’re messing with people’s jobs, with their livelihood. For a referee hoping to move forward in his field and go European and perhaps eventually international, this black mark on his record has now stumped any progress. He’s been unfairly sentenced with bias and handed this ban as lightly as if it were a slap on the wrist, when it is in reality a grave, grave matter.
Let me tell you the story of another Copa Del Rey quarterfinal Clasico, back in 1970. A referee named Guruceta officiated the match between Barca and Real Madrid in which a Barca player committed a foul three meters away from the penalty area. The most dim-sighted person in the world could not have taken it for a penalty, yet that’s just what Guruceta did – awarded a penalty to Real Madrid. That, kids, is an example of clear-cut unquestionable bias. Gureceta was banned from officiating any Barca match ever again and rightly so - but by Barcelona themselves, and not the federation, even though this instance was far worse than Teixeira's. (Incidentally, did you know the current award that Madrid sports paper Marca bestows on the best referee of the season, along with the Pichichi and Zamora awards and the rest of them, is called the Gureceta award after that referee? He's favored and celebrated in Madrid... surprise, surprise.)
After this preposterous ban befell the unfortunate Teixeira, it’s not hard to imagine that the rest of the referees in Spain would hardly dare make a decision out of Real Madrid’s favor. That has been illustrated quite well, week after week. But that’s not the end of it. Returning to Pique’s words after Saturday’s match: the referee’s association, the same blokes who gave Teixeira his ban, are now planning to sue Pique for his words, deeming them disrespectful.
Really? Really, are you serious right now? Mourinho can wait for a referee at his car and insult him and Casillas can mouth off to him in the tunnel without so much as a reprimand, but Pique can be not merely punished, but sued, for something like this? Those being just two instances out of many from Madrid, even while everything is going their way; yet after endless silent endurance of officiating decisions against them, the first time a Barca player opens his mouth, bam, lawsuit? Where do they come off? Where does the crap end?
My favorite part is that the judge to oversee the lawsuit is an 85-year old ex-member of Real Madrid. You just can’t make this shit up. Honestly, I’ve had it with this fucked up Franco league and the dimwits who call themselves a federation. Take your fucking league trophy, we don’t want it, and just leave Barca the hell alone.