Clásico referee criticised before game has even begun

 A sympathetic La Liga Loca can only imagine that Undiano Mallenco must have received the news that he was set to be in charge of Tuesday’s Copa del Rey Clásico second leg with the weariest of sighs, knowing full well the borderline slanderous accusations that would soon be heading in the referee’s direction.

And so it came to pass on Monday with Jordi Roura – half football coach, half Easter Island statue – and an accusation of refereeing pre-crime, that beloved Spanish hobby of stomping all over decisions made during the match before the game has taken place.
“The referee is who he is and we don’t talk about the referees,” said the stand-in Barça boss, talking about the referees. “But there is evidence that our results with this referee are worse than others – and we remember that he let a lot go in the [2011] Copa del Rey final.”

Completely coincidentally, Real Madrid won that final – a match at the Mestalla, clinched in injury time, that Mundo Deportivo recalls being “a thriller of fouls and violence.” What’s more, Mallenco is so mean and pro-Madrid/anti-Barça that the Catalan club have come out on top in three of the previous six Clásicos the referee has been in charge of, with one draw.

This pre-crime complaint was too good for José Mourinho to pass up. The Madrid manager was due to be continuing his vow of silence on Monday, with Xabi Alonso scheduled to talk to the press. The midfielder was given the swift elbow, though, with a typically terse, grumpy-head Mourinho delighting in a bout of sarcasm with his own response when questioned on the referee for the night.

“I prefer to keep the lessons we have learned in the past from Barcelona. Lessons in sporting behaviour, how football should be. Not talking about referees, not surrounding them, not looking for cards for rivals. Not hiding things, and of course, lessons in how to play football, that they do very well. You need to try to stay humble in following this line.”

Probably feeling a lot better having let all this out, Mourinho drifted into the background to decide whether any of his players would fancy giving Cristiano Ronaldo a hand during the clash, perhaps at the same time as Tito Vilanova was musing in New York whether to try the patience of the culé collective – and David Villa – by starting with Alexis Sánchez.

This kind of verbal jousting has been absent between the two teams in the previous three Clásicos this season, perhaps because Mourinho is a little bit scared of Tito Vilanova one day getting his revenge for the eye-poke (LLL feels ludicrous even writing that).

However, Roura’s comments have spiced things up nicely and some areas of the press in Barcelona are standing behind their guy. “Roura didn’t say anything we don’t already know,” claimed Sport director Joan Vehils. "There was nothing disrespectful or ironic, simply an explanation of what happens every time that this referee is charge of Barça games."

This all leaves LLL is two minds about the match, which has a wholly unpredictable outcome with the scores at 1-1. The previous 24 Clásicos played over the past 18 months have been tremendous affairs without much of the card-waving, Busquets-tumbling, Pepe-rampaging nonsense. However, it might be fun to have a bit of a reboot niggle, even to make Saturday’s wholly irrelevant Clásico at the Bernabéu in la Liga a little bit easier to bear. 

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