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Rafa the ruthless

Neither the Russian linesman who helped England on the way to their only World Cup win, nor the Wichita one (who's still on the line) can compare to Rafa 'no me jodas' Guerrero, possibly the most celebrated of all 'assistants', as they are now more neutrally known.

And the beauty of it is that Rafael Guerrero, native of Leon in Spain, insists on sporting a dodgy perm-like haircut that harks back to Terry McDermott and which makes him look as though he'd set out that very morning to ensure that the cameras would display his nest in all its glory. Confused? Well, it all started back in 1996.

Zaragoza were at home to Barcelona that day ten years ago, and when Aguado appeared to slap Barça's Couto, the linesman, the soon-to-be-famous Guerrero, waved his flag furiously in order to alert referee Mejuto González to what he had witnessed. González walked over to his linesman followed by the usual posse of players and enquired as to the problem.

'Penalty and red card' announced Guerrero, to which González famously responded 'Rafa no me jodas - me cago en mi madre'. Ah, the beauty of Cervantes' tongue!

To those unschooled in the delights of informal Castilian, the phrase 'No me jodas' is a negative imperative, which means basically 'Don't f**k me about'.

The second part of González' sentence is slightly more complex, since it means literally 'I crap on my mother', a rather odd thing to say in the circumstances. Perhaps a better translation would be 'I crap in the name of my mother', but in truth these things mean nothing, in a truly denotative sense.

They're just colourful expletives, and the Spanish - young and old, of all shapes and sizes, will 'cagar' onto a whole host of people and objects for a decent percentage of the day.

What was wonderful about that particular instance was that it was said by a referee, who is a figure of authority and who should therefore (in Spanish eyes) be capable of more public restraint.

Referees have always been Public Enemy Number Two here (Number One is the red traffic light), and they have always been partly hated because of their implacable silence.

English referees, on the other hand, are admired here because of their relative tendency to engage in dialogue with the players (before sending them off), but in Spain the refs have always been seen as uncommunicative robots, devoid of emotion, judgement or personality.

González' phrase changed the paradigm overnight and seemed to soften the profession, raising it in the humanity stakes to just above the Guardia Civil.

The other consequence of the sending-off, apart from a two-match ban for Aguado, was of course to thrust Rafael Guerrero into the public light, immortalised as he was with his new name 'Rafa no me jodas'.

A documentary was put together by Canal Plus which revealed the linesman's footballing background, and which also focused on his wife - the President of Leon's Deportivo Femenino Trobajo who herself played until she was 42. His father had been a local player and coach, and in the twilight of his career had been sent off by his son, then an up-and-coming referee in the regional leagues.

'It was tough' admitted Rafa. 'He wasn't happy. He threatened to cut me out of his Will'.

Fame continued to light up Rafa's perm. He was paid a not unconsiderable sum to appear in a national car advertisement, but then donated his earnings to Medicins Sans Frontières.

He went reasonably quiet for a few years, apart from the occasional aberration, until he again alerted a referee's attention to Zidane's testy back-slap on the Doctor of Death, Sevilla's Pablo Alfaro ( a qualified GP), who had been subjecting the Frenchman to surgery without anaesthetic for a full sixty minutes.

This was not enough for Rafa, so the papers said, since sending off the notorious Alfaro would hardly have been news. A year before he had been escorted from the Sardinero in Santander by police after flagging up a controversial penalty in the last minute against the home side and then last season he was again in the news when he robbed struggling Cádiz of a win at Villarreal by flagging for a handball that no-one else in the ground had witnessed.

Keeping up thus his string of more recent seasonal appearances in the headlines, Rafa decided to make it a ten-year loop by attracting the headlines during the Barça v Zaragoza game this weekend - the fixture that originally shot him to fame.

This time the referee was Iturralde González - with the same surname as the official ten years before. Rather better-spoken than his predecessor, Iturralde's attention was drawn to Barcelona's Motta in the 72nd minute, after the Barça midfielder appeared to put his hand into the face of Zaragoza's Diego Milito.

Unconcerned by the fact that Milito had also been poking at Motta and that the Zaragoza player had thrown himself to the floor somewhat theatrically, Rafa called Iturralde over.

When Motta got the red card, all hell broke loose. Carles Puyol, who had suffered the twin blows of losing his father and then being dropped from the national squad in the same week, went simply ballistic, and had to be restrained from attacking Rafa, or so it seemed.

In the TV replay Puyol clearly shouts 'Have you ever played football you idiot?', but then at the end of the game, in a rather better mood (Barça won 3-1), Puyol was seen to approach Guerrero and pronounce the immortal phrase 'No me jodas' with something of a grin.

Three minutes after Motta walked, Iturralde also sent off Zaragoza's Juanfran, balancing the books, then awarded a non-existent free-kick from which Ronaldinho put the home side into the lead.

Saviola then scored a third from an offside position and the thesis put forward by José Mourinho the other week about Rijkaard having 'an easy job' because referees consistently favour his side looked to be a valid one. Or is that the Madrid perspective in me speaking?

Barça certainly looked less than convincing against Zaragoza, who took the lead early on and who could easily have won the game. I was in Zaragoza at the weekend and was struck by how much buzz there is in the city about the team.

No-one had been quite expecting all this bounty after last season's travails, and the local newspaper was ebullient in its belief that the team could get a result in the Camp Nou. It almost did, and on that showing, there seems good reason to believe that they can stay in the top zone for a while yet.

And Barça cannot seem to keep people off the sick list. Messi is now out for three months, and Saviola for some time too - just when he seemed to have recovered his form and self-confidence. Ronaldinho is showing signs of returning to his former (good) self, but it's just as well.

In the paper in Zaragoza the journalist was also expressing his belief that Rijkaard would go to Milan at the end of this season, since he was growing tired of Cruyff's growing influence over Laporta, and Director of Football Txiki Beguiristain's attitude, who never consulted him, and who always went over his head.

Well - it's possible. He would certainly fancy the challenge, and returning to his old club would have some poetry attached to it. It might depend on how Barça fare in the defence of the Champions League title. If they win it again, it's rather harder to see him going.

Last but not least Ruud Van Nistlerooy, who scored all four goals in Real Madrid's 1-4 win away at Osasuna, a feat which put him into the record books alongside such luminaries as Di Stéfano, Pahiño, Puskas and Valdano, four of the other ten famous chaps who have managed a similar feat in the history of the Spanish game.

Van the Man would have taken the entire biscuit if it hadn't been for a linesman's flag robbing him of a fifth. At least it wasn't Rafa...

  • Phil is a published author of some repute and we're very lucky to have him here on Soccernet. If you want to own a real-life Phil Ball book, you can purchase either An Englishman Abroad, Beckham's Spanish Adventure on that bloke with the ever-changing hairstyle, White Storm, Phil's book on the history and culture of Real Madrid and his splendid and acclaimed story of Spanish football, Morbo.

  • If you've any comments for Phil, email the newsdesk