The UEFA Champions League encounter between Bayern Munich and Fiorentina brought to light the disastrous officiating standards in Europe’s premier competition once again.
Tom Ovrebo, the man who was infamously in charge of the Chelsea-Barcelona semifinal last year, was the culprit once again as a serious of shocking decisions left Fiorentina feeling like they were cheated out of a well deserved draw. It was not just Ovrebo but also his assistant Dag Roger Nebben who made a horrendous offside call for Miroslav Klose’s last minute winner. Klose was at least three yards offside as he headed the ball past Sebastian Frey, amidst protests from the Fiorentina players.
What surprises football fans the world over is how referees like Ovrebo are still officiating at the top level despite their evident mistakes in past games. Ovrebo has made a series of high profile errors over the last two years and was even being considered for the World Cup this summer. In typically appalling UEFA fashion, no official statement has been made and is unlikely to be made either about the incidents in Munich last night. In fact the UEFA website completely ignores Klose’s offside in its official match report.
The Champions League is about the best teams on the continent plying their trade so it is expected that the referees are also among the best in the continent. Tom Ovrebo is certainly not amongst them and many of the other UEFA officials will also fall into this category. The clubs are the ones who predictably suffer the most due to the poor officiating as it the Champions League is a very lucrative competition. Every round a team advances through earns them close to £5 million in TV rights and prize money. Manchester United walked away with a cool £33.5 million after their victory over Chelsea in the 2008 final.
For smaller clubs around Europe, every million means a lot more than to the European heavyweights. Fiorentina might have been denied a draw last night but it is likely to have an adverse impact on their earnings if they are to go out because of Ovrebo’s mistakes. The same point can be made with regards to smaller national associations like Latvia. The Latvians were at the receiving end of another shocking Ovrebo decision when he gave away the softest of penalties to the Greeks in their World Cup qualifying encounter. A World Cup spot is a straight injection of £10 million into the kitty of the association.
With such huge amounts of money at stake, it is confounding how UEFA decide to continue with their policy of having clearly incompetent referees. If UEFA introduces a coefficient system for referees similar to the one for qualifying spots it might go a long way in easing things for the clubs. If one can acknowledge the strength of various leagues, then the same must transcend to their officials as well.
It is a well known fact that some of the best officials come from the top European nations. In fact four of the last six referees for a European Championship final have come from one of Italy, Germany and France. So why not have a similar structure throughout the competition where the referees from the most competitive associations are looking after the games in the Champions League. It is indeed high-time that UEFA acted upon this problem lest it lead to a serious fallout.