Juventus, Gigi Buffon and Real Madrid must close officiating can of worms
How about we all take a step back and keep the hell away from that Pandora's Box?
That means you, Marca, who saw fit to devote Tuesday's front page to the following concept: the accusations of pro-Real Madrid refereeing bias might hurt Zinedine Zidane's team against Bayern Munich.
And you, Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, who accused UEFA head of refereeing Pierluigi Collina (who happens to be Italian) of being so obsessed with appearing transparent and unbiased that he ends up penalizing Serie A clubs. You too, Medhi Benatia, who compared events at the Bernabeu last week to a "rape" and, when an Italian comedian called him out on it, replied "if you'd like to try it out, I'm at the [training ground] every day... you can put it wherever you like."
And, as much as it pains everyone who has admired your career, you too, Gigi Buffon, who -- while saying on Sunday that the way you expressed yourself was over the top -- stood by your basic concept: that calling a match-deciding penalty when the game is about to go to extra time is wrong because you should "let the pitch do the talking."
As for the pond scum who littered social media as well as the offline world with threats and abuse toward referee Michael Oliver and his wife, Lucy, they don't need to take a step back. Instead, they need to be identified, exposed, named and shamed to their wives, children and employers as well as face criminal charges where applicable.
But back to the folks who really should know better. Amid the chaos, Max Allegri said it best on Tuesday.
"Let's not waste energy on this stuff," said the Juventus manager. "This is life, we're part of the show. It's over. I don't want to hear one more of my players go back to this. It's been a week. We're done."
He's right. Not just because lost amid the chaos of the penalty and the red card was one basic fact: Juventus had roundly defeated Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, putting three goals past them. That matched Madrid's heaviest home defeat in a European knockout tie. (Spartak Moscow beat them 3-1 in the 1990-91 European Cup quarterfinal, except unlike Juve, they weren't 3-0 down on aggregate when the match kicked off.)
That's what we should talk about, not vast conspiracies. I say this as someone who, more than most, isn't averse to discussing conspiracies if (key point, here) there is logic behind them to make them plausible.
So let's do some deconstructing, shall we?
Yes, referees have been accused of favouring Real Madrid in the past. Just last season, they got some huge calls in the return leg against Bayern. But guess what? It happens to most big clubs who do well in Europe. Or have we forgotten those hilarious "UEFAlona" jibes already?
Simply put: If favouritism exists, it's not clear why it should suddenly end. If there is no favouritism -- and you'd tend to believe that if there was a big pro-Madrid plot, they wouldn't leave it until six seconds from the final whistle to spring into action against Juventus -- then you wonder why they would suddenly overcompensate. Or, indeed, how it would benefit Juventus given that they're out of the competition.
Agnelli's logic is equally twisted. He accuses Collina of not wanting VAR in the Champions League, which is a bit odd since he's pushed VAR in his other role as head of FIFA's Referees Committee. It's also bizarre because under the current VAR protocol, Oliver would not have overruled himself.
The other part of the argument is that in his desire to appear impartial, Collina sends weaker and less experienced referees to officiate the Italian sides. Now, it's true that Oliver, age 33, isn't particularly seasoned compared with some UEFA officials. But with Mark Clattenburg (who would have gone to the World Cup) decamping to Saudi Arabia, Oliver is probably the top Premier League referee. The way to get experience is to actually officiate Champions League knockout rounds. Had the first leg been closer, you'd imagine that somebody else might have received the call, but with Real Madrid coming off a 3-0 away win, the appointment made sense.
What about the theory that Collina penalises Italian clubs? When he took over at UEFA, Serie A was fourth in the country coefficient rankings. Now it's third and Juventus have reached two of the past three Champions League finals, which suggests that if Collina is leading a big anti-Italian plot, he's not doing a very good job.
Agnelli, rather ominously, spoke about replacing Collina. If he were just a club president you could understand it. But he's also the chairman of the European Clubs Association and a member of UEFA's Executive Board, which makes the statement rather ominous and ill-advised.
Benatia needs some counselling if he thinks comparing Oliver's penalty to rape is appropriate.
Buffon's situation is complicated by all the extraneous smoke and mirrors around it. He says he's being honest about how he feels, how moments like that make him feel alive, how he's not going to hide behind conformist niceties. Great. But strip it all away and what is his basic point? That a big game should not be decided by a contentious penalty in injury time.
It's true that most neutrals and all Juve fans would have enjoyed extra-time. Let them settle it on the pitch, sure, but a referee has to call what he sees. Buffon should know that, because the shoe has been on the other foot in the past.
Remember this? When Lucas Neill brought down Fabio Grosso deep in injury-time in the Round of 16 game between Italy and Australia at the 2006 World Cup, nobody remembers Buffon running after the referee saying you couldn't possibly award a penalty in those circumstances. If Buffon had been in goal for Australia, maybe he would have reacted exactly the same way. But it still would not have been right.
Complicating everything are the folks (usually neutrals) for whom the referee is always right, regardless. They're also the ones who tend to view referees like some sort of collective entity, a bit like the Borg from Star Trek: they are to be respected and never questioned... at least unless their team is playing.
It doesn't work that way in real life. If you talk to most high-level referees, they'll tell you it shouldn't. They are individuals, they are uber-competitive, they take pride in their work, they are self-critical (away from the cameras) and they don't hesitate to critique the work of their colleagues.
We witnessed a thrilling Champions League quarterfinal and an outstanding performance from a Juventus side devoid of (arguably) their best player, Paulo Dybala. Now take Allegri's advice and move on.
Gabriele Marcotti is a senior writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.