At the current 2012 UEFA EURO in Poland and Ukraine, UEFA has put forward a campaign along with their partners FARE to prosper esteem and respect towards diversity, which is hence called "Celebrate Diversity". Alongside other campaigns aimed at encouraging respect, this slogan can be easily deployed to plead in favour of different approaches of the match officials acting at the tournament.
UEFA EURO 2012 - Lineup music
While Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has been immensely criticized for having sent off a Greek defender in the opener match, which was indeed a wrong decision, the - according to IFFHS - world's number 1, Viktor Kassai of Hungary, was praised to the greatest extent by most of the people, including me as assigned observer for his tie (Spain - Italy). Despite of the fact that Kassai was in full control of the match, that he applied his natural authority and also that he has a personality on the pitch highly respected by the players, one could certify him several situations where he obviously ignored the actually clear laws of the game, e.g. when he refused to book a Spanish defender for a clear tactical foul by pulling and holding, so that an Italian counterattack was avoided.
How to deal with that? How much can one bear such a violation of the laws of the game?
UEFA as well as FIFA have proven that they highly estimate his skills, when they had appointed him for the World Cup semifinal between Spain and Germany and the 2011 UEFA Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium. Kassai's style of refereeing is probably polarizing. A Spanish blogger has rightly demanded that missed cards and wrongly given cards had to be treated equally as mistakes. The significant question is: Is this really possible?
|Yellow Cards - ultima ratio? (c) ZIMBIO|
One can certainly say, yes. The laws of the game are very clear in most of the important areas. Holding and pulling to stop a promising counterattack has to be penalized with a yellow card. In addition, the interpretation of the laws is on the one hand subject of instructions and sessions, but depends on the referee's style of refereeing, too. This is the crucial point. A referee like Kassai is perhaps even more than a normal referee. He leads the match, anticipates situations, upcoming conflicts and develops a feeling for the match. I am convinced that such a high profile referee like Viktor Kassai surely knows himself best that some cards he did not issue would have actually been very necessary. The match between Spain and Italy is a paramount example for the success of his style. He allowed hard football as much as possible, let the game flow. The result was the match with the by far highest pace of the tournament. Ironically, it has however also become the match with the largest number of yellow cards, most of them were however given in the final minutes of the match, when a point was reached when cards had obviously become necessary, even from Kassai's point of view. So does Kassai violate or bend the laws of the game? To my mind, he bends them, knowing that the match will benefit from it. The question of whether bending laws in such a tremendously heavy fashion may be accepted or endured is very difficult to answer.
We have seen the direct opposite in many other matches, examples for that can be the opener match of Velasco Carballo or - significantly remembered by German fans - Undiano Mallenco's performance in Germany - Serbia (2010). The second case is probably even more suitable, as most of the controversial decisions were no wrong ones, but very pedantic ones. Having taken the rule book very literally, a harsh sending-off was the consequence. This is bending the laws as well, but the direct opposite.
So who is right then? Both. Celebrating diversity should be the message for the evaluation of refereeing styles or approaches. FIFA's motto, "for the good of the game", should be taken into account as well, so that my clear preference is the lenient, but consistent referee. Allowing football and a high pace of the game as much as possible, but keeping in mind necessary and obviously borderlines.
Finally, one should be aware of the fact that personalities are behind these "officials" and "styles" and that tactical approaches depend on the respective match. Having a certain style is nice, in my opinion, the best referee is however the one who is able to lead the match actively and who is capable of grasping the match's atmosphere and character, being - on the basis of that - able to adapt his style to the course of events during the match properly. Cards should be to my mind the ultima ratio, while personality and authority are prevailing.