Saturday 4 June 2011

2011 Champions League Final: Enjoyable But Predictable

I thought the Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United on Saturday 28 May 2011 was enjoyable but predictable because both teams played football the way they had been playing throughout the season. That is, they both have their own style of play (open free-flowing attacking football, generally) and they both persisted with their own styles for the final. The match finished 3—1.

Contrast this to any team that is managed by a coach like Jose Mourinho or similar. Such coaches understand the limitations of their own teams and can see the superiority of their opponents, and therefore choose to change the way they play so that they can change the way their superior opponents play. I am not saying that Mourinho's approach is wrong. Coaches are under heavy pressure to win and because of this oftentimes they feel they must win no matter how and at any cost. As a coach, whenever Mourinho's teams have come up against superior opponents, he will usually resort to using all the tricks in the book (and then some) to try to swing the pendulum back in favour of his own limited teams. We have seen this with Porto against Manchester United, Chelsea against Manchester United, Chelsea against Barcelona, Inter Milan against Barcelona, and Real Madrid against Barcelona. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but the coach who uses cynical tactics to undermine superior opponents must also be answerable and responsible for promoting unsporting behaviour and gamesmanship.

Alex Ferguson chose not to do that in the Champions League Final, and that is why the match was both enjoyable and predictable. The superior footballing team won.

The Referee Viktor Kassai (Hungary) had a very good game and was helped by the fact that both teams wanted to play football. Here are some observations of some refereeing incidents:

Kassai's style offers leniency to the matches he officiates. He does have a tendency to keep his cards in his pocket, and generally this is effective because his manner and management is excellent. The player that benefited the most from his leniency is Manchester United midfielder Antonio Valencia who committed at least 4 fouls in the first half. No cards came out in the first half. In the second half there were 4 cautions, 2 for each team.

Two "Handball" Penalty Claims
In the 10th minute, the ball struck United defender Patrice Evra's hand in the penalty area. This was not deliberate handball.

In the 78th minute, with United 3—1 down, United midfielder Ryan Giggs kicked the ball against Barcelona forward David Villa's hand in the penalty area, and then immediately appealed for a penalty. Again, this was not deliberate handball. Here are the freeze frames:

Notice the altered positioning of the Referee due to the presence of EARs.

The EAR has a great angle of view ... but did he assist the Referee?

Instead of continuing with his attacking move, Giggs tries to persuade Referee Kassai to give a penalty

In both handball appeals, the additional (extra) assistant referee (EAR) did not assist the Referee, and did not appear to assist the Referee. In fact, the redundancy and ineffectiveness of EARs was again evident for all to see during the final.

Player Leaving the Pitch Without Referee's Permission

In the second half, United defender Fabio injured himself during a goal-mouth scramble. As the ball is cleared away from United's penalty area, Fabio remains on the goal-line. He appears injured and wants treatment. However, play has continued (since, in the opinion of the Referee, Fabio does not have a serious injury or a head injury). Eventually, Fabio crosses over the goal-line and off the pitch to receive treatment.

Had Barcelona realised this, they could have played higher up the field because the second-last defender was now the goalkeeper Edwin van der Saar.

This is just a reminder of the reference to the Euro 2008 group match between Netherlands and Italy on Tuesday 10 June 2008. At that time, Netherlands striker Ruud van Nistelrooy scored what appeared to be an offside goal, but there was an Italian defender who was behind the goal-line. Much was written and discussed about that incident (see here and here).


When coaches and teams play football without any cynicism, unsporting behaviour and gamesmanship (i.e. without any dirty tricks) the Referee's duties are relatively easier and there is more likelihood of the match being fair, safe and enjoyable.

However, when this does not happen, then that's when Referees earn their marks (and earn their keep). Furthermore, it does not make any sense for coaches, players, commentators and fans to blame Referees when the original source of what is wrong with the game is when teams use dirty tricks in the first place in an attempt to win at all costs. After all, no one in their right mind would blame the police or judges for attempting to curb and control the delinquent behaviour of individuals. Individuals should be responsible for their own behaviour. I wonder whether coaches and players will ever take responsibility whenever they use "dirty tricks" on the football pitch ... as opposed to the irresponsible option of always blaming Referees? This is just my two cents to help support, protect and promote Referees.

Thank you all for reading this blog.

Note: Isn't this a wonderful shot perspective?

Three world-class strikers (Hernandez #14, Messi #10, Rooney #10) standing in awe, staring at and recognizing perfection, which is Villa's curling shot that goalkeeper van der Saar cannot do anything about. Everyone knows that the ball is going in.

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