In a perfect world, we wouldn't be talking about referees at this stage. We'd be getting excited about the Champions League final and the clash between two of the biggest clubs in the universe, two clubs that play attacking soccer and usually entertain (though not always, remember last year's semifinal), two clubs that will probably win their domestic leagues, which also happen to be the two strongest leagues in the world.
Alas, right now it's rather hard to do that given the officiating controversy and the virulent reaction to both semifinals (admittedly, one was rather more virulent than the other).
The day after the Arsenal vs. Manchester United game, I had a cup of coffee with UEFA's director of communications, who, predictably, had a rather busy morning, fielding a wave of telephone calls and e-mails regarding
You've probably seen it a billion times by now. Fletcher somehow got the ball, though his momentum took Fàbregas down. It was a cruel decision, as it meant he would be suspended for the final and it led to an outpouring of bile from the media, fans and the punditocracy who insisted Rosetti got the decision wrong. Manchester United appealed on "compassionate" grounds, even though ordinarily you are not allowed to appeal refereeing decisions, except in cases of mistaken identity.
However busy UEFA's press office was on Wednesday morning, it must have paled by comparison with what happened the next day following Chelsea vs. Barcelona (
Let's deal with Fletcher first. He's a very nice guy and a great professional. His is an underdog story: He's humble and he worked his way into United's starting lineup, despite arriving at Old Trafford as a 16-year-old with very little fanfare. And we all feel very sorry that he'll have to miss out on the final.
But the rules are pretty clear. Just because you make contact with the ball doesn't mean you haven't committed a foul. As
Was it harsh? Maybe. If Rosetti hadn't given it, it wouldn't have been a scandalous decision. But this doesn't mean his decision was wrong, no matter how bad we feel for Fletcher. So he won't get to play in the Champions League final this year. He's 25, he'll get another chance. Heck, United was there last season, too.
Most important, that decision didn't affect the outcome of the game. Arsenal was dominated by United over the two legs. The same can't be said for Barcelona and Chelsea.
Ovrebo did have a poor game. Abidal's red card was very harsh, especially since Chelsea's
Chelsea had a strong case when Abidal pulled Drogba down in the area. Drogba did very little to stay on his feet (not for the first time), but it was the kind of incident you generally expect to see punished with a penalty. The most obvious claim, to me, came in the second half, when the ball clearly struck
On the contrary, Chelsea's fourth claim was rather spurious. When the ball hit
Chelsea had a right to feel aggrieved if only because
Kudos must also go to Hiddink. It's the second time he has seen the dream of a final evaporate because of a last-minute goal (it also happened against AC Milan back when he was at PSV Eindhoven). He faced the media with plenty of dignity and, while he didn't hide his anger at Ovrebo's officiating, he did say that if Chelsea had converted the numerous chances it created, "We would not need to have this fuss over the refereeing decisions."
And that, ultimately, is the truth. Even with the bad calls, Chelsea did more than enough to win. Poor finishing was just as responsible as Ovrebo for the Blues' exit.