Who would be a referee? At best that of whistle-blower is a thankless task, shorn of credit and the target for the misplaced frustrations of players, coaches and fans alike even when carrying out their duties correctly. And when a glaring mistake is made, all hell is likely to break loose.
Just ask Mauro Vigliano.
The experienced official found himself the unwanted centre of attention on Saturday while overseeing an otherwise soporific Avellaneda derby between Racing Club and Independiente. The game had been instantly forgettable for the first 95 minutes, but all changed when Racing substitute Iván Maggi made a rare incursion into the opposition penalty in what was set to be the last action of the match.
The youngster's passage to goal was stopped by Sergio Barreto, who cut across his path and sent him to the floor in what seemed by all accounts a fairly innocuous piece of contact.
Vigliano judged differently. The referee pointed to the spot and Enzo Copetti converted, leaving La Academia to celebrate while the away side reacted furiously to the perceived injustice, both on the pitch and among the officials and hangers-on who, in the absence of fans, supplied the jeers and insults on the Rojo's behalf.
Racing's penalty was indeed extremely generous. There was minimal contact between the two players, although Barreto did raise his arm to block Maggi as the forward looked for a way around his marker. The next morning Vigliano, in an inevitable decision, was handed one week off by the AFA refereeing committee, while Independiente director Yoyo Maldonado gave a laudably measured response to the incident: “The officiating was poor. I went to speak to him and he said he saw a penalty. There is nothing against Independiente, it's poor refereeing. He was the referee we all wanted, he had a bad night.”
Maldonado's moderation, however, was quickly followed by what can only be described as a frenzied attack on the official. “It was one of the greatest robberies in history,” vice-president Pablo Moyano told TyC Sports.
Independiente even took the ludicrous step of asking the result be declared null and void due to the error, a request that has exactly zero chances of prospering. For his part Vigliano was obliged to bend the knee and grovel for forgiveness for his misdeeds, telling the same channel: “There are no words to describe it. Only referees know what this kind of situation does to us.
“I want to make clear that the referee is the first to hope their games don't have problems and end without trouble and mistakes... I understand the players, the fans, everyone who feels aggrieved by the refereeing decision.”
The referee made his mistake and will have to live with it. But is it not rather unjust that he alone should bear this public vitriol? One could argue that Independiente showed similar negligence in allowing a dozen players and members of staff to contract Covid-19 in the build-up to the Clásico, leaving them depleted ahead of one of the most important matches of the year, without any sign of regret or introspection. Or just imagine if Vigliano had conducted his task as poorly as both Racing and the Rojo on Saturday, with each team struggling even to string three passes together before losing the ball or create any sort of danger in a horrendous spectacle. Players are allowed an off-day; make one mistake with a whistle in hand, and the sky falls in on you.
Like it or not human error is part and parcel of the game, and not even the advent of VAR technology elsewhere in the world has stopped the controversy over officiating, although it has done much to drain whatever spontaneity and unpredictable excitement remained in football. The lynching of officials helps nobody, and only contributes to the collective hysteria around Argentine football which does nothing but harm it as a sport.