Stop Bitching About the Referees!
Posted on January 27, 2012 2:56 pm
(I originally wrote this as a column for a Mexican page, but I realized it was a great topic for a blog post here, so I decided to translate and adapt it)
Last Wednesday I was lucky enough to be at Camp Nou to watch the Barcelona-Real Madrid Copa del Rey Clasico. The Merengues played their best game of the Mourinho era and deserved to win. In the end, they didn’t, and the staff and players resorted to the usual tactic, to blame the referee. Worse, Mourinho’s level of paranoia was so high, that he waited for the referee in the parking lot after the match to scold him for his decisions.
The point is that however bad Teixeira Vitienes was he was not particularly terrible to Madrid. And I’m not the one saying it but Andujar Oliver, the refereeing analyst for Marca (a Madridista newspaper no doubt even if they have clearly become more objective lately). In his piece he considers that Lass and Pepe had to be sent off, that Sergio Ramos’ goal was deservedly disallowed and that the ref was right not to whistle any fouls in either area.
At the end of the game, the Merengues, as if following a script, spared no words to lambast the ref. They do this with every defeat, playing great or badly, and the mood is contagious to their fans, who see conspiracy theories at every turn. And the worst part is that the strategy has never worked. The referees don’t help them when they play against Barça, Mourinho will leave the team unless he doesn’t win the league and many players will follow him if that happens. Why keep doing it?
Of course, Real Madrid are not the only ones. We can find examples in every team on every sport. The problem is that fans can only remember when a referee affected them, not when he benefited them or had no effect. And so they begin to see trends where there are none. It’s easy to say “this referee has something against us, he was wrong three times in the last four years!” That seems like a trend, but only if it is conveniently forgotten that these three errors occurred in 20 games, not four.
In every sport, the syndrome “the world against us” is very common and complaining against the referees is the most used outlet to express it. But I have news to you, ALL the fans of ALL the teams in ALL sports believe it. Madrid complain about the matches against Barça, Barça complain that they never get penalty calls in their favor, Valencia and Atletico complain that referees have a tendency towards Barça and Madrid, and so on. So, if the referees screw everyone, then who benefits?
The only valid answer so far is: host teams. In the spectacular book “Scorecasting,” which discusses various statistical aspects of the sport, the authors Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim, analyzed matches for more than 15 years of 60 leagues and reached the conclusion that the usual home team advantage is reduced almost exclusively to refereeing errors in their favor. I have a theory that, because of fan pressure, the officials also help top teams, but I don’t have the statistical evidence to prove it. But what I know for certain is that when a fan says that a referee has something against his team, he’s usually wrong, and suffers from that same “us against the world” syndrome.
That does not mean that referees are perfect, far from it. In my opinion, they make too many mistakes, but that’s because the system puts too much responsibility on one person. With the stubborn resistance of Blatter and company to help them with technology, they put them in a situation as fragile as unfair. They already do quite a lot with what little they have to also have to suffer the outbursts of paranoid coaches and angry fans every week.