We have seen it a million times before, and we will see it a million more. We saw it plenty of times around the footballing world this weekend, with Serie A alone providing plenty of examples. Poor refereeing decisions are the bane of the game’s existence, but they also give the sport's massive band of followers something to chew over in the local on a Sunday night. Yet when it involves Juventus, there are so many extra connotations.
On Sunday in Catania, Juve won by virtue of a shocking refereeing call. After 25 minutes, the home side took the lead when Nicolas Spolli’s header escaped the attention of the Bianconeri back-line, hit the post and was tapped in by Gonzalo Bergessio. The Argentine wheeled away in delight, followed by his team-mates. The goal caption on millions of TVs read Catania 1-0 Juventus. The score boxes of most of the world’s internet play-by-play updates said the same. But then came the twist.
While Catania celebrated, referee's assistant Luca Maggiani was busy speaking to goal-line official Nicola Rizzoli over the officials’ communication system. He wanted clarification from his colleague as to whether Francesco Lodi had got a touch on the ball as it made its way from Spolli to the post, believing that Bergessio had been in an offside position when the midfielder swung at the ball. After Maggiani and Rizzoli had conferred, referee Andrea Gervasoni was clearly seen asking Maggiani “E’ fuorigioco?” (“Is he offside?”) The answer was in the affirmative, and the goal was ruled out.
Only it should not have been. On both the header from Spolli and the apparent touch by Lodi, Bergessio was clearly onside; so much so, he was standing shoulder to shoulder with Kwadwo Asamoah, who was goal-side of him as the last defender. It was a horrible, astounding decision which contributed massively to the Old Lady’s 1-0 win, compounded by a debatable onside call on Nicklas Bendtner in the build-up to Arturo Vidal's winner. But that is as far as we can seriously believe it goes, surely?
“The Bergessio goal was ruled out by the Juventus bench, the linesman had given it,” said Elefanti president Antonio Pulvirenti after the game, and he was not the only one to think it. Twitter was flooded immediately with talk of “It is the Juve way” and “Juve are the definition of cheating," but that is always likely to be the first reaction of those with long memories.
Calciopoli is still less than a decade ago, Sulley Muntari’s ghost goal remains fresh in the mind, and there have been other smaller incidents since that February controversy which many still point to which have gone in Juve’s favour.
But which club has not had a ludicrous decision go in their favour? On Saturday, Ignazio Abate was offside in the build-up to AC Milan’s winner against Genoa, the following day Roma lost to a penalty which was awarded to Udinese for a dramatic fall by Roberto Pereyra in full view of both the referee and the goal-line official. Even Cristian Ledesma’s red card for Lazio at Fiorentina only seemed to come long after referee Mauro Bergonzi had heard calls from the home supporters to produce a second yellow card. Over in England, Manchester United received a helping hand from Mark Clattenburg’s decision to send Fernando Torres off for a dive that never was, reducing Chelsea to nine men in the process.
Juventus are not the only beneficiaries of rubbish decisions, but their moments are the ones everybody loves to remember. “Serie A is fixed” alleged one tweet sent to this writer seconds after Bergessio’s disallowed goal, yet nothing similar was sent about the Premier League following the Torres decision later in the day.
It’s nothing new in reaction to the Old Lady being helped out by a bad decision, but towards the end of the last campaign it was Bianconeri fans claiming the same as they adjudged themselves to be on the wrong end of several bad penalty decisions. Before the closing weeks, they had been awarded one spot-kick all season, despite a string of notable shouts, leading to press silences being enforced throughout the club at a time when title rivals Milan were being handed penalty after penalty.
When it comes down to it, big teams get big calls regularly. In Italy and elsewhere. And champions particularly seem to receive a fair share in their favour. Inter got them post-Calciopoli, they were awarded to Milan in the early part of this decade, and Juventus are benefitting from them now that they have returned as the game’s leading force. But referees make bad calls here, there and everywhere.
Just last week, Alejandro Gomez was clearly fouled in the penalty area by Fredy Guarin at a key moment of Catania’s trip to Inter, but no spot-kick was given and moments later Rodrigo Palacio tied up a 2-0 win for the Nerazzurri. It was not nearly as atrocious a decision as Maggiani’s on Sunday, but the sum total was the same. Catania were denied a goal against one of the game’s big clubs.
The Catanias, Genoas, Bolognas etc of the world are used to calls going against them. It is the peril of being a provincial side. There is less intangible pressure coming from the ranks of a smaller club when it comes to an official making up his mind on a turning point in the game. Luca Maggiani made an awful error based on something he thought he saw. Just because conspiracy theorists would love to believe he deliberately went in Juve’s favour, it does not mean for one second that he did.