Real Madrid’s quarterfinal first-leg victory over Valencia was marred by controversy surrounding some very doubtful refereeing decisions.
Roberto Soldado was denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity on three separate occasions, after being wrongly ruled offside, and Real Madrid’s second goal should have been ruled out for a handball by Gonzalo Higuain.
“Referees can be wrong once, but should not be so much [as tonight]. And it makes you wonder. They don’t want to withstand the pressure of being wrong against Real Madrid,” said Soldado after the game (via Goal.com).
Inevitably, the debate of whether referees favor Real Madrid has been blown wide open again.
The theory goes that the Real Madrid and Barcelona have more influence over referees as a result of their prominence in the media. If referees make a mistake that goes against one of the big two, then a widely read partisan media will crucify them the next day.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, this tends to give the bigger team the advantage on tight or doubtful decisions. This is even more the case if players from the teams have recently come out in these media outlets criticizing recent decisions.
Why then, you will ask, is this article not titled "Are Real Madrid and Barcelona’s referee pressuring tactics working?"
Well, the answer to that question is each club’s managing of referees. Barcelona players and staff have, in general, refrained from criticizing referees in recent years. The occasional outburst has of course occurred, but in Real Madrid's case, it seems José Mourinho has established it as a strategy for his team.
This week was no exception.
At the press conference previous to the match against Valencia, Angel Di María came out guns blazing against Spanish referees.
"There are decisions from the referees that are not errors, they are making bad calls against us,” he accused, Real Madrid having had players sent off in each of their last three games (via Marca).
These strong words rang particularly loud, as they were not criticisms spat out in the heat of a match, with emotions running high. This was two days after the last match, at a press conference where he was chosen by the club to speak as representative of Real Madrid. There is little doubt that this was a strategy, and that Di María had approval from other personnel of the club before laying out his accusations.
It is impossible to determine whether referee Muñiz Fernández was influenced by these declarations, although his decisions in the game will lead many to think he was.
For some Valencia players, there is no doubt:
“Their best player has been Di María all week long,” fumed Valencia captain David Albelda on Twitter (via El Mundo).
The league has opened investigations into Di María’s words in the pre-match press conference, and will soon announce their decision of what punishment he will receive (via Marca).
Other players have recently been punished for similar offences with a €1,500 fine, a risible amount for almost any La Liga professional player, let alone a Real Madrid star. If the Spanish federation really does want to rule these kind of accusations out of the game, than stronger punishments, including suspensions, should be considered for next season.