Italian Football News

Italian football is addicted to drama and referees are no different

Italian football confirmed it is addicted to drama and that goes for the referees every bit as much as coaches, players and Presidents, writes Susy Campanale.

There is an Italian word that is quite difficult to translate: Permaloso. The best I can come up with is ‘touchy.’ It is the one characteristic a referee simply should never have, and yet it seems to be at the core of Calcio officials, now more than ever. It’s almost as if the introduction of VAR has taken away some of their absolute power, so now that they have a ‘boss’ looking over their shoulder, they take it out on the little guy under them.

I am old enough to remember the heyday of Pierluigi Collina, a man who could glare down the Devil, but above all knew how to use soft power as well. He’d put a hand on the shoulder of the players, reassure and talk to them, let them know he was not the enemy, explain his decisions. Now too many referees talk with their cards, flashing them with wild abandon and believing this will somehow calm the situation down rather than inflame it further.

Marco Di Bello completely lost the plot during the final stages of Lazio-Milan. He just resorted to booking everyone in sight and the red card for Matteo Guendouzi’s push on Christian Pulisic – who had been wrestling him first – was just ridiculous. He felt his authority slip away and lashed out at those he could punish for it.

Amid reports Di Bello would be suspended for at least a month from Serie A as punishment, this evening Matteo Marchetti did exactly the same thing by sending off Torino midfielder Samuele Ricci against Fiorentina. Ricci had just been booked for leaping with arm raised on Nico Gonzalez – fair enough. Moments later, Arthur clearly fouled him in cynical fashion and naturally enough Ricci asked ‘Oi, is that not a yellow?’ at the referee. It was not offensive, not insulting, certainly not enough to warrant a second yellow card to ruin the game.

Adding insult to injury, Marchetti did eventually book Arthur for that foul, so the whole thing was entirely unwarranted. A little bit of understanding is all he required, recognising the tension of the situation and biting his tongue for a moment. A referee cannot be this touchy, especially when VAR has no recourse to fix the error.

At the same time, that match highlighted the biggest problem with Italian football’s relationship with referees and sporting behaviour in general. They talk so much about admiring the ‘Fair Play’ of the English game, but you very rarely see anyone in England put the ball out for a minor injury. They know you have to play to the whistle and that is precisely what Christian Pulisic did.

Luca Pellegrini was naïve in the extreme when trying to shepherd that ball out at the touchline, he should’ve just prodded it the 30cm needed to finish the job. The Lazio player with blood on his face was behind Pulisic, he could not have seen what was happening. At most, the fourth official should’ve informed the referee to stop play, but I hope Pellegrini will learn from this.

Lazio are down to 10-men against AC Milan as Luca Pellegrini sees red for this challenge…

— Football on TNT Sports (@footballontnt) March 1, 2024

Lazio fans evidently won’t learn from it, as the lesson they took away was that Pulisic was evil incarnate. The fact is, he followed the rules to the letter. The trouble with Italian football in general is this assumption that everyone puts the ball out of play for the tiniest knock. They don’t. That will get them into serious trouble in Europe if they don’t wake up.

This brings me to another issue, as every year the Serie A coaches and referees meet to discuss the strategy and interpretation of the rules for that season. Every time they assure play will be allowed to flow more, there will be fewer free kicks and cards for every little contact. And every year that proves to be a complete lie. They can’t help themselves and the coaches, players and above all media do not help the referees either by poring over every frame of video to spot potential fouls. They are desperate to find errors rather than praise some actual football, because that is what gets attention.

Italian football is addicted to drama and no matter how much they protest that this is an ugly distraction, it has always been the real focus of their interest in the sport. Honestly, if you think it’s bad now, just remember what it was like before VAR was introduced.

Twitter: @SusyCampanale

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