Diego Forlan: Despite the decisions in Barcelona, referees deserve more respect and leniency
Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column will be written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.
My good friend Luis Suarez was fortunate to stay on the field on Tuesday when Barcelona came from behind to beat Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou in the Uefa Champions League quarter-final first-leg tie.
My former international colleague also showed how brilliant he is with two more goals, which gave his side the win. He’s scored 45 goals for Barcelona this season and is playing the best football of his life. He probably stayed on the pitch because the referee didn’t see the incident between him and Juanfran.
Players at my old club Atletico felt angry Suarez was not sent off while Fernando Torres was.
Torres also deserved to go. He scored a superb goal, set up by my former teammate Koke, and it’s good to see Torres still having an influence in such big matches, but you could see he was playing anxiously and rushing into challenges.
Maybe Torres thought he would get away with more because of a more lenient German referee; the style of refereeing varies by country.
When I played European games for Spanish or Italian clubs, we knew that if we got a British or northern European referee then they would let the game flow more.
They were used to officiating more physical games in an environment where the fans don’t want stoppages. The Spanish or Italian referees would stop play more often.
What the referee did or didn’t do at Camp Nou dominated headlines, and if Real Madrid hadn’t won in Barcelona on Saturday there would have been a lot more headlines.
Gareth Bale scored a perfectly legitimate goal which was disallowed, but I’m not one for blaming referees.
They inevitably make mistakes and miss incidents. I don’t buy the theory that they favour the bigger clubs or that they are swayed by the crowd. Many do, I don’t.
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I prefer to go into games thinking that referees are neutral. Idealistic? Maybe, but the referees I know are professional at what they do.
Some are better than others; some have different styles and levels of acceptance. Some talk too much, some barely talk. That’s no different from any footballer.
I respect referees. It’s a hard job, especially with the numerous cameras with slow-motion replays which can highlight any error. And, of course, the critics.
It’s hardly fair that they are subjected to such scrutiny because humans slip up, but what’s the alternative? Stop the game every two minutes for video decisions and in doing so ruin the flow of the games?
The standard of refereeing has gradually improved, just like pitches and footballs and fitness levels have been transformed. Referees are best when they don’t make headlines because those headlines are usually for errors.
Referees shouldn’t be personalities and despite spending so much of my life in close proximity to them on a football pitch, I barely know any referees.
Even on the pitch I don’t speak to them so much, but hope that they officiate fairly. Of course you do start to become familiar with the referees you have seen most.
There are Argentine referees who can remember me playing there and it’s good to see them, it reminds you of a past when you were younger and had big dreams.
I recently bumped into a group of Brazilian officials at an airport in Lima, Peru. They had officiated Penarol’s Copa Libertadores game at Sporting Cristal the night before and were flying back to Brazil.
The other passengers didn’t recognise them like they would a footballer, but I did. I saw them because I had to leave my team early because my first son was about to be born. I had a nice chat with them – why not?
I have played under managers who might have had a slightly different view of referees, especially in the heat of the moment.
Alex Ferguson used to wait for them in the Anfield tunnel at half time, where he would offer his views. Given who it was and the strength of his personality, that could have been intimidating for a referee, though Liverpool players would also offer their thoughts.
Other managers would point out before matches: “You know what this referee is like, he’s going to make it difficult for you.” Or a stronger: “You know this referee has got it in for us.”
That can be used to motivate, but also as a warning to players as some referees do show a lot more cards than others.
That’s fair, but the manager or player who always moans about referees is the one who is covering for his own mistakes.
A manager might think a referee has got it in for him personally because of a past dispute, but I really don’t believe that some referees are somehow corrupt in the best leagues. If it exists then I don’t know about it.
I have got angry with referees in the heat of the moment when I think they have made the wrong decision. And I have been wrong when they have actually been right.
I have also smiled when a referee has said to me: “When are you going to start playing today?” during a match or even: “Can’t you have a word with the defenders to stop them fouling you?” – in front of those defenders. That’s said to lighten the mood.
Not that a referee could have said anything to lighten the mood at Camp Nou on Tuesday.
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Published: April 7, 2016 04:00 AM