Two weeks into the Clausura 2012 season and already there's an abundance of compelling storylines to discuss. You have the surprising start of San Luis, the struggles of Chivas, the rise of Tijuana, even the tweets of Yasser Corona -- the list goes on. Sadly, though, these stories aren’t what fans are focused upon. Instead, the otherwise entertaining Clausura 2012 plotline has been hijacked by one unfortunate and ugly topic: referees.
Just two rounds into the season and already we've seen a full year's worth of referee controversy. Poor referee decision-making has suddenly become the norm in the Mexican Primera, as multiple results have been tainted by highly suspect calls.
Maybe we should have seen this coming. Last season’s final between Santos and Tigres -- a complete mess from an officiating standpoint -- was evidently just a precursor to the current season. The second leg of the Apertura final, officiated by the inimitable Marco Antonio Rodriguez, saw three players handed red cards, plus another seven shown yellow. The match was summed up visually by the preposterous image of Rodriguez simultaneously holding up two yellow cards, one in each hand (a stunt which ultimately earned him a five game suspension).
The current season picked up right were Rodriguez and his pocket full of yellow cards left off. In the opening weekend, the match between Puebla and Atlas saw six players on the Atlas side shown cards, including an incredibly harsh red to Lucas Ayala. Confusion also reigned in the Morelia-Tijuana match, where cards were shown and then rescinded. Tijuana’s Duvier Riascos was first shown a yellow for diving in the box, before referee Antony Zanjuampa decided to reverse his decision and award Riascos a penalty. The reversal may have ultimately been the right call in this case, but the initial bad call -- plus the long moments of utter confusion on the field -- did nothing to build confidence in the officials.
Instead of improving after the opening weekend, as one would expect, things actually took a turn for the worse in week two. No one was more lucky than Tigres, who scored the winning goal against Queretaro on a play where the ball actually went completely out of bounds. Somehow every official on the field missed the ball go well over a foot past the endline before being kicked back into play and ending up in the Queretaro goal. It was an oversight so absurd that it was almost laughable.
The Tigres debacle was followed up by the Club America-Toluca match, where America’s tying goal came courtesy of a highly-controversial penalty. Referee Erim Ramierz whistled Toluca for a handball in the box on the play, when in reality the ball barely grazed the shoulder of defender Diego Novaretti. Even America's fans had to admit it was a terrible call. Cynics, of course, would say this was just another decision in a long line of referee help for Televisa’s favorite sons. Club America president Ricardo Pelaez would counter – and you have to admit he has a point -- that "if the referees helped us, we would be champions." Favoritism or not, though, nothing changes the fact that it was a terrible call.
Poor refereeing decisions are obviously part of the game. Fans of every sport, in every league around the world, have issues with referees. The Mexican Primera is no different. What’s disconcerting, though, is the sudden frequency -- and magnitude -- of the errors.
This week Justino Compean, president of the Mexican Football Federation, reportedly laid into the league’s referees behind closed doors. In a meeting with officials from the Mexican Primera and Liga Ascenso, Compean let it be known that these mistakes would not fly. Fans of the league would no doubt agree, and this weekend we’ll see if Compean’s words had any effect. The fans certainly deserve better. Next week, hopefully, it will be the players and the games themselves – not the men with the whistles – that end up as the sole topics of discussion.