9 Apr 2008

Liverpool have profited from shocking refereeing decisions in this year's Champions League, but the luck has to run out sometime...doesn't it?

Gerard Houllier believes that bad refereeing decisions cost Arsenal dearly in the two Champions League ties with Liverpool, and in my view, he’s absolutely right. Liverpool have benefitted from a series of dubious refereeing decisions in this season's Champions League, but with Chelsea to come in the semi-finals, is their luck about to run out?

Over the two legs, Liverpool arguably deserved to progress to the semi-finals, but the dubious refereeing decisions that helped the team along the way must be acknowledged. Gerard Houllier has done exactly that. He stated:

"From a personal point of view I was happy Liverpool won but I also felt that over the two legs [Arsenal] deserved at least as much to win as Liverpool.

"To me it was a clear-cut penalty in the first leg and then one was given against them in the second leg. That's why he was not happy. At the top level a decision like that can make you or break you".

I completely agree with this statement. Like Houllier, I am ecstatic that Liverpool are through to the semi-finals, and I fully expect them to make it to the final. However, against Inter Milan and Arsenal, the club profited from some shocking refereeing decisions.

Let’s start with the first leg against Arsenal at the Emirates: Having reviewed the Alexander Hleb penalty incident from every conceivable angle, there is no doubt that it was a clear penalty. Dirk Kuyt deliberately tugged Hleb’s arm, forcing him to lose momentum and tumble to the ground.

If that wasn’t a penalty then what is?! What makes it worse is the referee had the best view in the stadium and did nothing. In a humorous twist to the tale, it turns out that the referee comes from the same village in Holland as Dirk Kuyt!

Of course, both Kuyt and referee have rubbished claims that there was bias involved, but who knows? Perhaps the referee knows Kuyt or his family personally? If so, then it’s entirely possible that the bias may have come on a subconscious level. Anyway, Liverpool got away with it.

In the second leg at Anfield, Ryan Babel was felled by Kolo Toure to earn Liverpool a penalty in the dying minutes of the game.

Again, having examined the incident, it’s clear that Toure’s supposed ‘foul’ was nothing of the sort; he was struggling to get out of the way, and unlike the Hleb incident, it appears that there was no deliberate intent.

Furthermore, the referee was about 15 yards away *behind* the play, and did not have a clear view of what actually happened, yet he gave the penalty almost instantaneously.

I find it incredible that Liverpool get a penalty for basically nothing, whilst Arsenal are refused a penalty for a cast iron, gold-plated foul!

Yes, it’s great that the team got through to the semi-finals, but the impact of these diabolical refereeing decisions cannot be overlooked.

Liverpool fans will no doubt denigrate me for raising these issues and accuse me of not supporting the team, but for me, fairness in the way the game is played is of the utmost importance.

Too many fans are incapable of putting their frenzied bias aside, and will blindly back Liverpool players in any dubious situation, instead of just admitting when the club has benefited from an unfair decision.

Admitting that Arsenal were denied an obvious penalty does not make me less of a fan. I just love to see Liverpool win fair and square through sheer skill, determination and ability.

For me, blatantly wrong refereeing decisions that have a direct impact on the game diminish the glory of the victory.

This was exactly how I felt after the victory against Inter Milan in the last round, when two pathetic refereeing decisions led to Milan having two players sent off.

Neither red card was deserved, and instead of fans being objective and acknowledging that the ref got it wrong, all we heard was how Materazzi is an idiot and deserved it, even if it was unfair.

I'm sorry, but I don't subscribe to that kind of thinking. Even if Materazzi is a fool, fairness must prevail, and his sending off was not fair.

The truth is, if Liverpool players had been sent off in the same circumstances, the fans would have been foaming at the mouth at the injustice of it all.

Another example of a refereeing decision benefiting Liverpool in the Champions League came in the 2005 CL semi-final against Chelsea, when Luis Garcia scored *that* goal.

No one can say for sure whether it actually *did* cross the line that night, but it’s just another example of the good fortune Liverpool have experienced.

It was a moot point anyway because if the goal had not been given, Peter Cech would have been sent off and Liverpool would have had a penalty. A deserved penalty this time!

I think it’s fair to say that Liverpool have enjoyed a run of good luck in the last four champions league games, and without certain refereeing decisions, it’s entirely possible the club would not have made it through to the semi-finals.

Liverpool’s luck has to run out sometime though, and that could happen against Chelsea, in what will be the third Champions League semi-final against the Londoners in four years.

The law of averages dictates that Chelsea’s luck has to change some time…surely they can’t lose for a third time against Liverpool in Champions League semi-final?!

Actually, yes they can, and I fully expect Liverpool to make it to the final. When it comes to European know-how and tactical ability, Rafa Benitez has proved that he is second to none.

And with Fernando Torres in the team and scoring goals for fun, anything is possible. Every time Torres scores, Liverpool do not lose the game. It’s been that way all season and when - not if - when Torres scores in the semi-final, it will be lights out for Chelsea once again.

I just hope Liverpool spank Chelsea without the help of dodgy refereeing decisions and dubious penalties.


  1. Jaimie I don't agree that it wasn't a penalty on Babel,you're right when you say that Hleb incident from the 1. leg is a pen because it is,Arsenal should have gotten it,but that doesn't mean Babel wasn't fouled as well.The fact that we bossed the 60 minutes of the game and that "sexy" Arsenal couldn't get the ball even if their life depended on it is now going to be overshadowed with this "controversy" that a bad and sour loser Wenger succeded to "install" in the media.He's a disgrace for a manager,never was able to lose with dignity and never will.

  2. I wouldn't say it was luck, Jaimie. Under Benitez, Liverpool just seem to have the knack of working the averages in their favour (at least over 2-legged ties). Actually, you didn't refer to the most obvious piece of luck enjoyed by the Reds in recent times--their amazing comeback against Milan in 2005 (though maybe that was uncanny rather than lucky!)

  3. Oh yes, I forgot: for me they were both penalties. Basically Babel was put off and lost his chance because of that. Yes, Kuyt was let off in a similar situation--but what's the referee supposed to do? Not give a penalty because a different referee got it wrong in the previous game? Remember, we suffered from a terrible penalty decision against Chelsea at the start of the season (a game we should have won 1-0 instead of drawing 1-1!)

  4. Regarding the Hleb ”penalty":
    How many times during a match do you see a player lay his hand on another players arm and slightly pull? 10, 20? How many times does it result in a free-kick? One, two? My point is, should a small foul in the penalty-area get you a penalty when the same thing goes unpunished on the rest of the field? If every situation of this kind was followed by a blow in the whistle it would be impossible to play a normal football match.
    Secondly. It was a foul from Kuyt. But a small one. Hleb is about 90 percent responsible for the fall. An example: If you walk down the street and someone pulls your arm like Kuyt did are you then going to fall like a ton of bricks and start to roll on the pavement? Don´t think so.
    So what to do when these things happen in a game? I think both parties should be punished. Hleb should have had an indirect freekick, it is not worth a penalty since he could have stayed on his feet. Hleb should also get a yellow card for acting. This, I think, would be the most fair thing to do.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Davor. Re the Babel penalty, I just don't see how the referee was in a position to instantaneously (literally) point to the penalty spot when his view was obscured.

    From the ref's POV, Toure's back was blocking him from seeing what actually happened. The referee assumed it was a foul because Babel went down. He should have checked with his assistant to make sure instead of acting so rashly in such an important game.

    Compare that to the Hleb incident -the ref was 5 yards away and had a perfect view of Dirk Kuyt tugging at Hleb's arm but he didn't give.

    The inconsistency is maddening. Of course I'm happy that Liverpool got through, but there will come a time when a decision like that goes against the team in a crucial game, and when that happens, fans will be in an unproar.

  6. John - I agree with you about the penalty decision v Chelsea, but the the game was comparatively meaningless. Nothing was riding on it. After the game, there was everything still to play for.

    When the games assume a greater importance, I feel the standard of refereeing has to match the occasion. That means referees should not be rash when making decisions; they should double check with other officials just to be sure, as the effects of getting it wrong can be devastating.

    Ultimately, it could successfully be argued that Arsenal went out of the competition because of poor refereeing. Had Hleb's penalty been given, Arsenal's confidence would have soared and they may have gone on to score more.

    Conversely, its also possible that Liverpool may been spurred into action by the penalty and gone on to score another away goal. We'll never know. It just seems that every week, crap refereeing is ruining games, and for the sake of football, it has to improve.

    I defy anyone to watch highlights of the Babel penalty and explain how the referee could know instantly that it was a penalty.

  7. There was shirt pulling, bumping, and impeding going on. Anyone can see that Babel's fall was genuine (look at the odd way his legs buckle). For me it was 100% a penalty. After the game, the referee said that at the time none of the Arsenal players complained to him--they were all complaining at Toure!. Remember too, that if a sequence of fouling begins outside the area and continues into it, then that is still a penalty as long as the referee did not blow up earlier--and he is absolutely entitled to let the action go on a bit and see what happens. As for shirt pulling in general--it's harder to get away with it in Europe than in Britain. I think our referees need to bring their standards more into line with the European norm. If this happened it would also help Liverpool enormously, as every PL game would be lika European game--and with the physical threat gone, it would be far easier to impose tactics on a game.

    Finally, Arsenal weren't beaten because they didn't get a "dodgy" penalty. They were beaten because, as Wenger said, they were a bit naive defensively.

  8. It must also be acknowledged then, Jamie, that in the build-up for the Diaby goal Fabregas used his arm to control the ball. As you correctly state, the law of averages does eventually even out poor decisions. Admittedly the Kuyt penalty claim was valid, but to state retroactively that the result might have been different had Arsenal won 2-1 in the first leg is spurious and fallacious. Both teams would have play differently had the first leg been won by Arsenal. Nevertheless, we did emerge worthy victors and hopefully we overcome the Chavs in Londongrad once more!

  9. Anonymous - You're probably right about the different approach the teams would have taken if Arsenal had won 2-1. Having the second leg at Anfield it always a massive advantage, and in recent years, Liverpool have gotten lucky in that regard.

    I don't know whether we were 'worthy' victors, but it doesn't matter - we're through. \

    Re the Chelsea game, given Chelsea's superb record at Stamford Bridge, the chances of us winning there are slim at best IMO. Liverpool's record at the bridge is atrocious anyway, so it's important to try and take an unassailable lead into the second leg.

    I fully expect Liverpool to go through but I just have this nagging feeling that the law of averages will come into play. Beating Chelsea for third time in a CL semi-final?! They have to win some time, don't they...?

  10. Your arguments are sometimes so preposterously defeatist that it pains me. Deeply. There's pragmatic analysis and then there's just downright negative. Way to douse the spirit of a deserved win. On the one hand, you expatiate about our inability to win without the ref's assistance. And then you (shock! horror!) praise Rafa's tactical acumen. Equivocation is definitely not for you. Formulate a definite opinion first, one that is logically sound and factually accurate. Then have a Kit Kat, son. Optimism never killed anyone.

  11. Anonymous - Thanks for your comments, but you slightly misrepresented my views somewhat. There is no contradiction in praising Rafa's tactical acumen and acknowledging that the Ref gave Liverpool a helping hand. The two things are not mutually exclusive.

    And I did not say that Liverpool had an 'inability to win' without ref assistance - I merely stated that 4 dubious decisions against Milan and Arsenal went Liverpool's way, which clearly helped the team progess.

    Let's be realistic here - playing against 10 men in BOTH legs v Milan undoubtedly helped the team, did it not? Escaping an obvious penalty then being gifted one with only minutes remaining at the most crucial time of the game also helped the team.

    I don't see how I'm being 'downright negative' either. I'm highlighting what I perceive to be relevant issues

    And my article has lots of positive things to say about the team and our chances of progressing. I am very optimistic, but that doesn't mean I stop analysing everything.

    That's what this site is about, and that's what I'm about as a fan: Enjoy the victories but also try and be fair and look deeper. If that makes me a bad fan in peoples' eyes then so be it.

  12. I have to say, Babels penalty was justified. Like the above comment mentions, the way he fell was a clear indication that it was not a dive, even hollywood stunt men cant fall as convincingly as that!

    With regards to the Hleb penalty decision, yes there was contact but the way Hleb went over was the reason the ref didnt award a pen. One of the above comments hit the nail on the head.

    "It was a foul from Kuyt. But a small one. Hleb is about 90 percent responsible for the fall. An example: If you walk down the street and someone pulls your arm like Kuyt did are you then going to fall like a ton of bricks and start to roll on the pavement?"

    His body would have twisted and not give way in the way it did, the ref saw that as deception and decided against awarding it! Fair play to him.

    Another comment above mentions the use of the arm in the lead up to arsenals first goal. The player in question was Flamini and i believe that evened out the penalty claim from the 1st leg, simple as.

    Weve had bad decisions go against us all season, seemingly all in the league. Yet we seem to get the better of referees decisions in europe, thats just the way it is for us!

    Bring on chelsea next. We might get the same luck over these 2 legs that they got at anfield at the start of the season, and that Jamie
    would be fair in anyones opinion, theyd be getting thier "just desserts".

  13. Jamie,
    Just a note on your point regarding the game against Chelsea not being as important because there was still everything to play for afterwards... The difference of 2 points can often be very decisive towards the end of the season - but notwithstanding that - I feel you are just playing the devil's advocate here. On one hand you say that the inconsistency of referees maddens you, yet on the other hand you suggest that referees should adopt a higher standard of decision making in games which have more riding on them. Come on! Are you for real? Either the standard of refereeing is examined as a whole or not. To think that different games would have different standards based on importance is ludicrous. Be consistent yourself before you take this argument further.

    On another point, did you set up this site? If you did - then great job. I may not agree with your opinions but your articles are very well written and are very entertaining! A real breath of fresh air compared to much of the junk that people put on the web nowadays! I'll be visiting this site from now on!

  14. DW - My point re refereeing standards is simply that in games where the wrong decision can kill a season or cost a club millions. referees should take extra care to ensure they are making the right decision. What is the point of having 2 linesmen and a 4th official if they are not utilised correctly?

    Babel's penalty is a case in point. There is no way the ref had a clear view of what *actually* happened. There were two players blocking his view, but he blew for a penalty almost instantaneously.

    Would it have hurt to check with the linesman, just to make sure?

    Re the Chelsea game at the start of the season - I accept the point that it could have counted had Liverpool been in the title race, but historically, the premiership title is always won by a margin of 5-10 points anyway, so it hardly matters.

    The magnitude of the game in question needs to be considered: 2nd game of the league season vs Champions League quarter final knockout with 4 minutes to go.

    I just didn't like the way the ref was so emphatic about the penalty when his view was obscured. Of course, he says he saw it clearly but I don't see how he did.

    Anyway, it's all done and dusted now. And if Liverpool get a penalty in the semis, then in some ways - asw 2rue says above - it will be Chelsea getting what they deserve.

    I can't help feeling though that it's Chelsea's turn to win a CL semi-final v Liverpool! Law of averages and all that. I hope I'm wrong, but we'll see.

    And yes - I did set up this site. Thanks very much for your praise of the site - I'm glad you find the articles have some merit.

    My overall goal is to build a community of Liverpool FC writers who each have their own individual take on the club. It'll be a slow process finding writers but we'll get their in the end. Thanks again :-)