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12th Apr 2018

Referees can’t be influenced by sentiment: Gianluigi Buffon – not Michael Oliver – got it wrong

Oliver actually deserves that one thing referees are so rarely afforded: praise

Simon Lloyd

Gianluigi Buffon, we can safely say, didn’t take what happened in stoppage time at the Bernabeu on Wednesday evening too well.

Not for the first time in the Champions League (but definitely for the last), the goalkeeper was on the wrong end of a particularly cruel storyline. 3-0 down to Real Madrid from last week’s first leg in Turin, few – if any at all- had even contemplated his Juventus side salvaging the tie. Yet as the game entered added-on time, Buffon’s chances of finally lifting the European Cup were miraculously very much alive.

Two first half Mario Mandžukić headers were followed by a tie-levelling third from Blaise Matuidi with half an hour of normal time remaining. Somehow, it seemed Juve were the likelier to progress.

And then it all fell apart.

Mehdi Benatia, caught on the wrong side of Lucas Vasquez, was adjudged to have fouled him in the six yard box. Penalty. Match point, Real Madrid.

Cristiano Ronaldo would (of course) go on to step up and fire the spot kick home, but not before an aggrieved Buffon had taken his protests to the point where Michael Oliver saw fit to show him a red card.

And so to the post-match interviews, where Buffon – now free from the threat of a suspension from Uefa – tore into the referee.

According to the legendary goalkeeper, Oliver was “a beast”, “had a trash can for a heart,” and, perhaps most damning of all, “should have been in the stands, eating chips and drinking Sprite, or Coca-cola or orange juice,” whatever that bit means.

Asked by BT Sport’s Des Kelly if he regretted the way his European career had ended, Buffon continued to take aim at the official, claiming he should have been aware of the history of the two clubs and the fact that this was potentially his final appearance in the competition.

“Coming here, you have to know about the history of Real, the history of Juve,” he said.

“Given what happened in the first leg, a 40-year-old Buffon may be playing his final game.

“You can’t make yourself the protagonist because you can’t handle the pressure.”

For most who have followed Buffon’s career, if only from a far, it was impossible not to feel at least some sympathy for the way in which his final Champions League game unravelled. Perhaps because of this, many initially reacted to the incident by criticising Oliver.

In actual fact, the referee, regardless of what Buffon or anyone else thinks, got it spot on. It might have been seen as soft, but Benatia did foul Vasquez. Buffon’s reaction, no matter how much football fans love the bloke, was also worthy of a red card. For Oliver to give both decisions at such a crucial moment in the tie was incredibly brave.

Buffon’s apparent suggestion that Oliver should have somehow factored in both the history of the two clubs involved and the fact it may have been his final appearance is also plain wrong. No official – at any level of the game – should ever be governed by sentiment. Oliver was not, and for this he deserves that one thing football fans so rarely offer referees: praise.