Calcio Debate: Are The Referees Helping Inter, Juventus And Milan?

Another refereeing controversy has hit Serie A, leading Carlo Garganese to ask whether the men in black really are favouring the big teams…
The ‘Big Four’ all won in Italy this weekend, but had it not been for a series of bungling refereeing mistakes, it is more than possible that only Milan would have come away from their game with all three points.

Juventus defeated Fiorentina 1-0 on Saturday night, but Alberto Gilardino had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside, while Stevan Jovetic should have been given a penalty after he was hacked down by Olof Mellberg. On Sunday afternoon, Roma put three past Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo, but Philippe Mexes was clearly offside for the first goal while, at 0-0, Marcelo Zalayeta saw his goal for the hosts disallowed for an involuntary handball that could have been interpreted either way.

Finally last night, Inter edged past Sampdoria 1-0 amid more controversy. Adriano, who scored the winner on the stroke of half time, should have earlier been sent off for a Sugar Shane Mosley-style punch into Daniele Gastaldello’s stomach. In the second half, Gianpaolo Pazzini was denied a penalty when, having got goal-side of Ivan Cordoba, he was seemingly dragged over by the Colombian as he dived to head home a cross.

There has been widespread uproar about the so-called favouritism towards Serie A’s bigger sides. Fiorentina owner Andrea Della Valle blasted: "This has been going on for quite a few games now, these are clear situations that even a child would see. [Referee designator Pierluigi] Collina has to explain this attitude by the referees. I am offended for ourselves and the city."

Napoli coach Edy Reja complained: “We are all aware that this is not a great moment of form for the referees. Between the goal not given to us, as well as the one given to them, there were various incidents that affected the outcome of the game. I don’t know if Zalayeta’s hand ball was valid, but Mexes’ goal should not have counted. My players left him because he was offside.”

The most furious outburst came from Sampdoria boss Walter Mazzarri, who declared: “Everything just seems to always go in favour of Inter. Adriano should have been sent off for punching Gastaldello, and we should have had penalties when both Pazzini and Stankevicius were fouled in the area.”

The most ironic part of these proceedings was Jose Mourinho’s post-match interview, when he astonishingly claimed that it was Inter who had been hard-done by during the win over Sampdoria. The Portuguese, who had been sent to the stands during the match for questioning the impartiality of the referee, sniped: “It seemed to me that the referee was under pressure and turned against us. He went against Inter too many times. I like winning this way, with bad luck and players missing and a referee who I prefer not to comment on.”

It is well-known that Mourinho likes to create a siege-mentality by publicly declaring that the whole world is against his team but, considering the fact that Inter had only days earlier eliminated Roma in the Coppa Italia with an offside goal, not to mention the Siena-Maicon debacle just before Christmas, this really did take the biscuit. It was almost on a par with Rafa Benitez’s complaints last year about the officiating during Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, when it was the referees who had single-handedly taken them past Inter and Arsenal in the previous rounds.

Football is an unpredictable game, but one thing guaranteed is that referees will always favour the biggest sides. It happens in every country, not just Italy. How rare is it to see a penalty being awarded at Old Trafford against the current English and European champions? From 1993 to 2003, not a single penalty was scored by a Premier League side at Manchester United. Ten years is a quite astonishing feat.

In Spain, there is a long history of so-called bias towards the two giants of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Just over a week ago, during a game at the Santiago Bernabeu, Osasuna’s Juanfan was twice denied two stonewall penalties, and indeed was booked (and thus sent off) on both occasions for simulation. Osasuna’s President, Patxi Izco, branded the match a "scandal", and the referee as "immoral." Juanfran merely commented: "It is normal, it is in the Bernabéu, against Real Madrid.”

Of course, just because it is "normal" does not mean that it is right. After Maicon’s horrific offside goal was allowed to stand against Siena, I asked whether a tennis-style challenge system would help eliminate the bias, and this is a question that is perhaps worth debating once again now.

The biggest losers from the weekend were actually a big team – Milan – who could have closed the gap further on Inter and Juventus but for the referees. However, anyone who has watched Serie A this season will also tell you that the Rossoneri have received more than their fair share of soft penalties. Even Gianluca Zambrotta’s (like Christian Amoroso’s it must be added) yesterday in the 4-1 win over Bologna was less than clear-cut.

Those who believe that the post-Calciopoli situation with referees is any different to how pre-2006 was perceived by some are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Last year Inter were clearly favoured, while this season the decisions have been more evenly spread out between the Nerazzurri, Juventus and Milan. Football, like life in general, is all about hierarchies, and these three giants are at the top of the tree, with Roma in the second tier beneath them.

What are your views on this topic? Are the referees helping the big sides? Is there anything that can be done to stop the so-called favouritism? What was your opinion on what happened at the weekend? Who are being favoured more - Inter, Juve or Milan? wants to know what YOU think…

Carlo Garganese