By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The Clasico began a day early. Stand-in Barcelona boss Jordi Roura used his press conference on Monday to send a message to Tuesday's match official, a man he claimed had persecuted the Catalan club in the final of the Copa del Rey in 2011. Against Real Madrid.
Down in the capital, Madrid had prepared to send out one of their players to the pre-match press gathering, but once Jose Mourinho had heard Roura's comments, the club called a quick meeting and it was the Portuguese who faced the media.
Over 24 hours before the Clasico and the storm of controversy was already brewing. And all because of one man: Alberto Undiano Mallenco.
"With Undiano our numbers are worse than with others and the only league match we have lost [this season] was with him," Roura remarked. "We have in our memory the permissiveness he had in the Copa del Rey game against Real Madrid [the final in 2011]. The best thing that can happen is for him to go unnoticed."
The Navarran also presided over last season's 2-1 win for Madrid at Camp Nou, which all but secured La Liga for Mourinho's men, but it is the final of the Copa del Rey in 2011 which rattled Roura, as Alvaro Arbeloa and Pepe both got away with cynical stamps. Barca's Sergio Busquets could also have seen red for an ugly challenge on Xabi Alonso very early in the game, another action which went unpunished.
That Copa clash remains the only occasion in which Mourinho's Madrid have stopped Barca from scoring in 15 Clasico meetings, yet the game was still goalless on 90 minutes and the same scoreline would be no good for the capital club on Tuesday because the first leg finished 1-1 and Real need to score.
Undiano was Spain's refereeing representative at the 2010 World Cup but caused controversy as he sent off Miroslav Klose in Germany's 1-0 loss to Serbia, earning criticism from defender defender Arne Friedrich afterwards. "With almost every foul he pulled a yellow card. There are few players who didn't get one," the full-back said.
And Germany boss Joachim Low added: "Klose just tried to kick the ball away and then was unlucky to hit the opponent's leg."
Undiano also came under fire for his performance in the 2-2 draw between Juventus and Chelsea at the Stadio delle Alpi in 2009, with one report branding him a "referee so far out of his depth he was drowning".
The Spaniard sent off Giorgio Chiellini and awarded a contentious penalty which triggered a 15-man melee following a handball, while he also waved play on after Didier Drogba's free kick appeared to cross the line before being gathered by Gianluigi Buffon.
Juve were involved again in another infamous night for the official, with the Bianconeri winning 3-0 at Celtic in the their Champions League last-16 first leg. The Scottish side were furious with the Navarran's performance, claiming he allowed the Italians to 'manhandle' their players at free kicks and corners. Juventus won 3-0 on the night, but Celtic later revealed they would be sending a dossier to Uefa for 'clarification' on the referee's decisions at Parkhead. Celtic boss Neil Lennon described him as 'very pro-Juventus', while defender Mikael Lustig added: "We tried to talk to the referee but he wouldn't listen". In the same game, though, Mallenco also failed to notice that Alessandro Matri's early strike had clearly crossed the line, and only awarded the goal when Claudio Marchisio had dispatched the rebound.
In La Liga, Undiano harshly sent off Gerard Pique for two bookable offences as the Catalans lost their unbeaten domestic record with a 3-2 defeat at Real Sociedad recently, while he also officiated the Basques' 3-1 win over regional rivals Athletic Bilbao on Friday night, in which Iker Muniain picked up his fifth yellow card of the season to earn a suspension for next weekend's clash against Osasuna, the referee's hometown club. "We know why he gave me the card," Muniain fumed. "We know where Undiano Mallenco is from and against whom we are playing next week. If you stop and think about it, you find the explanation."
Mourinho, meanwhile, chose not to speak about the official, instead ironically taunting Barcelona ahead of Tuesday night's match. "I prefer to focus on the lessons we have been given in the past by Barcelona. Lessons in sporting behaviour, not pressuring the referee nor surrounding him, not simulating cards for the rivals and obviously, playing football, as they are a really good team."
Mou's message was for Roura, not Undiano, and Barca's interim boss may have been wrong to get involved in a psychological war with the Portuguese. He was right about one thing, however: Tuesday's Clasico will be better if Undiano goes unnoticed. But in a high-octane clash with so much at stake between two huge rivals and overseen by a card-happy referee, that seems unlikely to happen.
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