23.3 C
New York
Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Real Madrid’s VAR controversy demonstrates the pressures facing Spanish referees

“I’ve seen some of these videos. You try and keep away but, in the end, they reach you,” Spanish referee Alejandro Jose Hernandez Hernandez told the COPE radio station last November.

“It’s not the perfect situation in which to referee a football game. We referees have lots of experience, but a general tension is generated. They put the image of the referee as the enemy, which is super-negative for us.”

Hernandez Hernandez was being asked about regularly featuring in Real Madrid TV (RMTV) videos compiled by that club’s official in-house channel to back up claims that he and certain other referees are biased against their team. One infamous example was an 11-minute package of supposedly incorrect key decisions by Hernandez Hernandez himself, all going against Madrid, aired days before he took charge of a crucial La Liga ‘derbi’ versus city neighbours Atletico in March 2021.

“I’m not saying he should not referee Real Madrid games. I’m saying there is no way he should still be refereeing at all, given all these mistakes we have just shown,” said Miguel Angel Munoz, deputy director of RMTV, during the segment.

Hernandez Hernandez was most recently mentioned on RMTV last Thursday night, following Madrid’s exit from the Copa del Rey at Atletico, with the station’s director Jesus Alcaide including him in a roll-call of officials supposedly biased against Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

This history was recalled by many after Hernandez Hernandez’s performance as the VAR official during Madrid’s La Liga game with Almeria at the Bernabeu on Sunday. The home side were 2-0 down at half-time but came back to win 3-2 as three huge VAR-assisted decisions went their way.

Three times between the 57th and 67th minutes, Hernandez Hernandez intervened to ask on-pitch referee Francisco Jose Hernandez Maeso to review his initial decisions.

The first came after a cross came into the Almeria area, and the ball went out for a goal kick. In the audio released afterwards by the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), Hernandez Hernandez told Hernandez Maeso: “I am going to recommend an on-field review to consider a possible penalty for handball by an Almeria defender.”

Hernandez Maeso went along with the recommendation, and Jude Bellingham converted the penalty to halve the deficit.

Next, a counter-attack by the visitors’, started after Dion Lopy pushed past Bellingham near the halfway line, was finished by Sergio Arribas, putting bottom-of-the-table Almeria 3-1 up. Hernandez Hernandez again intervened to tell his less-experienced colleague: “I’m going to recommend you look at a possible foul in the move to the goal. I’ll show you the contact, it’s in the same phase of attack.”

Lopy was penalised for fouling Bellingham, and Madrid remained only one goal behind.

The third incident was when Vinicius Junior converted a cross to make it 2-2, with Hernandez Maeso immediately disallowing the goal for a handball by the Brazilian. “I’m going to show you: it hits him on the right shoulder, OK?,” says Hernandez Hernandez.

Again, Hernandez Maeso reversed his decision.

All three calls were very debatable — and have indeed been much debated.

Some pundits and fans saw a push by Madrid striker Joselu contributing to the handball for the penalty. The Lopy foul on Bellingham was maybe the clearest, but Hernandez Maeso had a full view of the incident from close by and did not see a problem in real time.

The most problematic was the Vinicius Jr handball, especially the images used to make the decision to allow the goal. Almeria’s official Twitter account asked why the VAR team had not shown Hernandez Maeso another angle of the incident — one which viewers at home saw as part of the game’s TV broadcast.

Among those to share their views on Sunday evening was Jaume Roures, founder of Mediapro, the Catalan firm which provides VAR systems for multiple leagues around Europe, Africa and South America. “I want to underline that the images of Vinicius’ goal shown by the VAR were the wrong takes,” Roures said on Cadena Ser radio on Sunday evening. “The replays on TV, from the front, showed clearly he had scored with his arm.”

Broadcasters provide all the images to the VAR officials, who then decide which ones the referee on the pitch sees, Roures said. “In a Madrid game, there will be more than 20 cameras (operating),” he said. “Then the VAR operators and referees decide how to use them. They get all the live images, unedited.”

Mediapro is the company that introduced VAR’s first season in Spain in 2018-19. Midway through that campaign, Madrid president Florentino Perez called then-RFEF president Luis Rubiales to complain about decisions which had gone against his team. At the end of that season, Mediapro was replaced by Sony-owned Hawk Eye, which runs the current system.

The same firm also produced RMTV for 18 years, until its contract was not renewed in 2019 and the Bernabeu hierarchy switched partners, to Telefonica and Supersport. The club’s own TV station has, unsurprisingly, always been very heavily in favour of its own team. However, in recent years, these videos claiming certain referees are against them have become more common, and are often broadcast in the days before that official takes charge of a Madrid game.

Spain’s refereeing committee chief Luis Medina Cantalejo said earlier this month that he did not like these videos, but also that he did not believe they had an impact on referee appointments or decisions made during matches.

“No other team, in any sport in the world, does anything like this,” Medina Cantalejo said. “It is not positive for the competition to try to pressurise an official before the game, which is the objective of these videos. But referees have to be prepared (to handle) this. It doesn’t worry me, and it doesn’t worry the referee.”

Perez has also often publicly criticised the standard of refereeing in Spanish football, suggesting too many decisions go against his team, including during VAR reviews.

“Issues as sensitive and important as the quality of refereeing and the application of VAR depend directly on the Spanish federation,” he said at Madrid’s AGM last November. “Nobody knows who draws these VAR lines, or what frame they choose for it. This happens constantly, and generates doubts about Spanish refereeing. I trust that the Spanish government will act and take the required measures to regenerate the structures of refereeing in our country.”

The previous month, Roures was ousted from Mediapro, after 30 years running the company. And last December, the RFEF awarded the firm a contract to run VAR in Spanish football again from next season, while Hawk-Eye will introduce its semi-automatic offside system.

La Liga president Javier Tebas is also keen for reform in how refereeing, including VAR, is managed in Spain. Tebas told The Athletic last summer that, ideally, a new, independent body would be established — similar to the situation that exists in the Premier League.

In another of the tangles of connections within Spanish football, Tebas and Roures have been business partners. Roures is also a long-term associate of Barcelona’s club president Joan Laporta, and his Orpheus Media company helped fund some of the ‘levers’ the Catalan club have pulled in recent transfer windows to allow them to sign new players despite their huge debts.

Meanwhile, the judicial investigation into Barcelona’s payments to former referees chief Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira continues, with Madrid and Perez having formally entered into the legal action as injured parties.

Enriquez Negreira and Barca have denied any wrongdoing, with the club saying he was hired as an “external consultant” who provided reports “related to professional refereeing”.

After Dani Carvajal scored the 99th-minute winner in Sunday’s game, Almeria were angry.

“We leave with the feeling that the game was stolen from us,” their midfielder Gonzalo Melero said. “The penalty, the goal with the hand, the goal disallowed… it goes beyond all limits. If we want to be the best league in the world, we are light years away.”

Madrid’s reaction was relaxed.

Manager Ancelotti just said that he felt all three VAR decisions were correct, while matchwinner Carvajal added: “If Melero watches those plays back calmly, for sure he will realise that they were all refereed correctly.”

On RMTV, pundit Alvaro de la Lama said: “We are not used to seeing justice being done. We just want the technology used correctly.”

Meanwhile, Hernandez Hernandez was defended by former colleagues now working in the media. “We cannot allow RMTV to keep hunting down our referees,” said Cesar Muniz Fernandez on the Onda Cero radio station.

After his team won 4-2 at Real Betis later on Sunday, Barcelona head coach Xavi said: “I will get punished if I speak, but everyone saw what happened at Madrid. I’ve already said that this league will be very difficult to win. I remember Getafe (in August), the obvious penalty on Raphinha at Vallecas (in a November game against Rayo Vallecano), another on Joao Felix… It’s like that. We should have six more points.”

RMTV director Alcaide responded by claiming Xavi’s “entire career” as a Barcelona player should be considered “under suspicion”, referencing the payments Barca made to former referees chief Negreira between 2001 and 2018 — which are being investigated for possible corruption in a case brought by the Spanish public prosecutor’s office.

Despite all the continuing controversy, on Monday morning Vinicius Jr had no problems with posting an image of the angle which was used to allow his goal. “Golazo!!! That’s how I always did it on Copacabana beach,” the Brazilian forward wrote.

Hernandez Hernandez has been appointed as the VAR for Thursday’s Copa quarter-final between Atletico and Sevilla. As one of Spain’s top officials, he knows that, sooner or later, he will again be appointed to a Madrid game, and be faced with making tough calls.

Elsewhere on that same radio show in November mentioned at the top of this article, Hernandez Hernandez was asked if he was more anxious when he knew he was going to be in charge of a match involving Madrid.

“Honestly, I take it with the same normality as any other game, hoping the game goes as well and as cleanly as possible,” he replied.

“You hope there are no ‘grey’ decisions, when, whatever you do, you are in trouble.”

(Top photo: Alberto Gardin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Read the full article here

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles