The officials' decision-making process left a lot to be desired at the Stadio Angelo Massimino … and elsewhere in Serie A
The clocks in Italy, along with those across the rest of Europe, went back on Sunday morning. Sadly they did not wind back to the glory days of Diego Maradona at Napoli, Paolo Maldini at Milan or even Alessandro Del Piero at Juventus. Instead, as La Repubblica's resident humourist Emilio Marrese noted under the headline "Vintage Sunday", we were returned only to a time when "[Silvio] Berlusconi insults judges and referees help out Juve".
Berlusconi had reacted furiously to his conviction for tax fraud on Friday – describing the verdict, which remains subject to two levels of appeal, as "political" and "intolerable". But his words were positively restrained compared to the ones used by the Catania president, Antonio Pulvirenti, after his team had a perfectly good goal chalked off in their 1-0 home defeat to the Bianconeri.
"Today we witnessed the death of football," said Pulvirenti. It was his contention that the goal had not been ruled out by the referee, but instead "was disallowed by the Juventus bench".
Certainly the officials' decision-making process in the 26th minute at the Stadio Angelo Massimino had left a lot to be desired. Gonzalo Bergessio was in a clear onside position when Nicolás Spolli met Giovanni Marchese's cross from the left with a downward header towards the right-hand corner of Gigi Buffon's goal. The ball struck the foot of the post and rebounded back out into the six-yard box, where Bergessio prodded it home.
Initially, the referee Andrea Gervasoni signalled that the goal had been awarded. The linesman Luca Maggiani, whose flag had stayed down, also began to walk back towards the centre-circle. Then he stopped and turned around, calling Gervasoni over for a conference. It quickly became apparent that the pair were also discussing the situation with the official behind the goal, Nicola Rizzoli, via their headsets. Approximately 45 seconds later, the call was changed – with Bergessio ruled to have been offside.
At first, confusion reigned – the stadium continuing to celebrate for some seconds after the decision was overturned – but that soon gave way to rage. It had not escaped the attention that, en route to the halfway line, Maggiani was confronted by Simone Pepe and other members of the Juventus bench, who had strayed to the edge of their technical area to protest over the goal.
Pulvirenti was in no doubt as to what he had seen. "The linesman had given the goal, but after the complaints from the bench the referee and linesman changed their decision and disallowed it," he said. "It is a scandal, it is embarrassing … Who decided [that the goal should not stand], Pepe or [Emanuele] Giaccherini? It is becoming hard to continue."
In reality, of course, it seems unlikely that Maggiani, a top-flight referee since 2000 and an international one since 2004, could have been intimidated by something as mundane as a screaming player standing in his way. Instead this was a mess borne of a lack of conviction in his initial decision. He had wanted to check with Rizzoli whether there was a touch inside the area by any Catania player after Spolli.
Rizzoli was clearly in no position to judge the offside, but could confirm that Francesco Lodi had got his boot to the ball as it flew through the area. For Maggiani this was decisive. When Spolli won his header Bergessio was onside, but surely by the time the ball grazed Lodi's boot the striker must have strayed off? The truth was that he hadn't – the player still clearly onside when the ball passed Lodi – but now the linesman's memory was playing tricks on him.
It was a decision only compounded in the second half, when the same official failed to spot that Nicklas Bendtner was offside in the build-up to Juventus's goal. This was a far more marginal decision, the striker's front foot just barely beyond the defensive line when he was played through by Mirko Vucinic. Bendtner failed to convert the opportunity himself – his tame first-time effort blocked by Mariano Andujar – but Arturo Vidal rolled home the rebound.
On its own it was an incident that might easily have been forgiven – even Pulvirenti saying he did not want to protest about that goal afterwards. But taken in the greater context of a match containing Catania's disallowed goal and eventually also a red card for Marchese (even if his two bookings were, in truth, merited), it all played into the old narrative of officials being subject to sudditanza psicologica – a "psychological slavery" – that causes them to inherently favour the big teams.
It was a thesis supported by results elsewhere. Prior to the Juventus game, the only goal in Serie A this weekend had been scored by Milan's Stephan El Shaarawy against Genoa – and that too ought to have been disallowed after Ignazio Abate strayed offside in the build-up. On Sunday night Chievo would be denied a penalty that could have earned them a draw away to Napoli when Sergio Pellissier was brought down by Hugo Campagnaro.
But on a bad day for officials all over the country (and beyond) it was not always the smaller teams who suffered. Lazio's appeals for a spot-kick were rejected when the ball struck Juan Cuadrado's outstretched arm in the area during their loss to Fiorentina, and the Biancocelesti subsequently also had Stefano Mauri's equaliser wrongly disallowed for offside. Roma's Zdenek Zeman accused the referees of having been decisive in his team's collapse from 2-0 up to lose 3-2 at home to Udinese.
"They always say that referees don't decide who wins the league," said Zeman. "In reality it seems to me that to a great extent they do."
The Juventus result, though, was always going to receive the greatest scrutiny – extending as it did their unbeaten run to 48 games. Beppe Marotta, the club's general manager, argued afterwards that his team would have won even if Catania's goal had stood, but while it is possible that would have been the case it equally might not. Juve dominated throughout against the Sicilians, but with Andujar in inspired form had never seemed certain of scoring.
At full-time, Juventus left the field to a chorus of "ladri, ladri" – "thieves, thieves", and it was not long before 'evidence' of a stitch-up was being circulated. Pulvirenti himself, who argued that there was "more than just sudditanza psicologica" at play, would claim to have seen a post celebrating Juventus's Scudetto on Maggiani's Facebook profile. In reality it appears that this was in fact just a 'fan' page, and likely set up by someone else entirely.
But it is easy for fans to assume the worst when so many of their darkest suspicions have been proven true in recent years – from Calciopoli through to the ongoing Calcioscomesse scandal. This was not so much a case of the clock being turned back for Serie A, as a simple maintenance of the status quo.
• Juventus, then, potentially stand just six days away from completing a half-century of league games without defeat. If a visit from Bologna this Wednesday is unlikely to knock them off course, then the 50th match has the potential to be very challenging indeed. On Saturday Juve host an Inter side who have won all of their eight away games so far this season.
• Inter extended their general winning streak to seven in a row with a 3-1 victory away to Bologna on Sunday, a feat which has been bettered only four times in the club's history. The Nerazzurri are now up to third, just four points behind Juventus. Asked if his team could challenge for the Scudetto, the manager Andrea Stramaccioni, replied: "There are only nine games gone, so it's not smart to talk about objectives – only growth. That same growth Juve had last year: when they struggled at the beginning but then found their stride and went on to win the Scudetto." We'll take that as a yes, then.
• Lazio might have been unfortunate with some of the refereeing decisions during their defeat to Fiorentina at the Stadio Artemio Franchi, but that shouldn't take away from the quality of football played by the hosts, nor indeed their two exceptional goals. Adem Ljajic had opened the scoring with a fierce and unexpected drive back across his body from outside the box, before Luca Toni executed a stunning swivel and finish in the 90th minute. "Forget his date of birth," advised Gazzetta dello Sport's Luca Calamai. "Inside the area he can still make the difference."
• Likewise, Zeman's protests over a possible offside in the build-up to Udinese's second goal against Roma – as well as the disputable nature of the penalty award that led to their winner – should not distract from the fact that his team once again imploded in dramatic fashion at home. Just as against Bologna a month previously, Zeman's Roma had looked like they were on a different planet to their opponents as they tore Udinese apart with spectacular and incisive football in the first half-hour, but promptly came apart at the first sign of adversity. Adding insult to injury was Antonio Di Natale's match-winning penalty – a 'cucchiaio' of the sort that Francesco Totti had made his trademark at this very stadium.
• Are two managers better than one? That seems to be the conclusion in Cagliari, where the combined efforts of Ivo Pulga and Diego Lopez have led to three consecutive 1-0 wins since they were appointed to replace Massimo Ficcadenti. Pulga is formally the manager, with Lopez his assistant, though it has been suggested that this is more of a job share – with the latter unable to take the job alone on account of not having the required licences.
• Where would Milan be this season without El Shaarawy? The forward now has six goals in nine Serie A appearances this season. The rest of his team have four between them – and three of those were scored by Giampaolo Pazzini in a single match.
Results: Bologna 1-3 Inter, Catania 0-1 Juventus, Fiorentina 2-0 Lazio, Milan 1-0 Genoa, Napoli 1-0 Chievo, Pescara 0-0 Atalanta, Roma 2-3 Udinese, Sampdoria 0-1 Cagliari, Siena 0-0 Palermo.