By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
The time when Barcelona wouldn't talk about referees has long gone. The Catalans' press posture has changed since the departure of Pep Guardiola in the summer and assistant Jordi Roura led the criticism of official Wolfgang Stark after the Blaugrana were held to a 2-2 draw at Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the teams' Champions League quarter-final tie last week.
"We are still respectful when it comes to referees, but if we keep quiet it seems there are things we haven't seen. Nobody is stupid and neither are we," Roura told the media on Friday. Meanwhile, club spokesman Toni Freixa claimed recently: "We haven't had luck with referees in the last few knockout rounds."
And Dani Alves went even further, accusing Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho of influencing the match officials ahead of such games, even if his own side were not involved. "If you pressure them [the referees] a lot, that conditions them greatly," the Brazilian explained in a press conference last Wednesday and, asked if he had been referring specifically to the Portuguese coach, he replied in the affirmative.
So now Barcelona appear to be playing a similar game. Unhappy at Zlatan Ibrahimovic's goal which was scored quite clearly after the Swede had been in an offside position at the time the ball had been delivered into the Barca box, perturbed that the striker had seen his ban overturned to play at the Parc des Princes at all and believing the same player should have been shown a red card for a foul on Alves, the Catalans made their protests public. And it may just have had the desired effect ahead of Wednesday's return at Camp Nou.
For that match, Uefa has selected Dutchman Bjorn Kuipers, a referee who has been lenient to the Catalans in the past and was even dubbed '(Tom Henning) Ovrebo's successor' (in reference to the Norwegian who officiated the controversial 1-1 semi-final draw at Chelsea in 2009 which saw the Catalans advance to the showpiece after several suspect decisions and was later described by Mourinho - albeit hypocritically - as 'The Scandal of Stamford Bridge') by one Spanish newspaper after his performance in the 1-1 draw at Stuttgart in 2010.
|BJORN KUIPERS in 2011-12
The Germans were denied what looked like two clear penalties that night after Gerard Pique's handball in the 29th minute and a Rafa Marquez foul on Timo Gebhart shortly before half-time. However, Barcelona could have had a spot kick themselves as Cristian Molinaro seemed to use his arm to divert a goal-bound Ibrahimovic effort and a professional foul by Sami Khedira in the last minute could also have been punished with a red card.
On balance, however, Barca probably benefited in that match, while another favourable Kuipers call went their way in the 3-1 win over AC Milan last season, when he controversially awarded Barca a penalty after Alessandro Nesta had pulled Sergio Busquets' shirt in the lead-up to a corner kick. "Now I understand Mourinho," Ibrahimovic complained afterwards, in reference to the Portuguese's constant complaints at decisions supposedly going Barca's way.
Kuipers famously failed to spot one of the most notorious incidents in the history of Dutch football, when Liverpool's Luis Suarez (then with Ajax) bit PSV's Otman Bakkal's shoulder right in front of the official. He also upset Mourinho for his leniency in Madrid's 1-1 draw at CSKA Moscow in last season's competition, when Cristiano Ronaldo ended up with a bloodied ankle following a criminal challenge by Jerko Leko.
The Dutchman, who owns a chain of supermarkets in his homeland, was also in charge of Barca's defeat to Celtic in the group stages of the competition this term, the first time he has overseen a defeat for the Catalans in five matches. Barca have won three of those (2-0 over Dynamo Kiev in 2009; 3-1 versus Milan last year and the 2-0 success against Porto in the Uefa Super Cup in 2011). The draw against Stuttgart was the other game.
In the Super Cup, Porto players were furious at Kuipers for failing to award them what looked like a clear penalty for a foul by Eric Abidal on Fredy Guarin, who was later sent off along with Rolando as the Portuguese ended the match with nine men. So even though Barca complained of an "over-physical" battle with Celtic in November, the Dutch official has been more a friend than a foe to the Catalans in the past. And of the two teams, the Blaugrana are likely to be the happier with the designation of the 40-year-old for Wednesday's clash. Ibrahimovic, on the other hand, almost certainly will not be.
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