The Inter Milan fans in the curva nord had prepared a banner: "Bayern-Fiorentina," it read, "Next it will be us!" The reference was to the offside - but awarded - goal with which Bayern Munich had defeated the Florence side 2-1 in the Champions League three nights earlier. All Italy seemed united in outrage at the refereeing lapse. The banner turned out to be, in the eyes of Inter's supporters, a prophecy. On Saturday night, antipathy towards a match official erupted again as Inter had not one but two central defenders sent off before half time against Sampdoria. And when Paolo Tagliavento, the referee, issued a yellow card to Samuel Eto'o for supposedly overreacting to a challenge, a majority of the 50,000 present did something seldom seen in an Italian stadium, they waved imitation white handkerchiefs in disgust, a gesture, the so-called "panolada", more commonplace in Spanish football.
A strong sense of indignation about refereeing has existed for several years in Serie A. It was exacerbated by the 2006 calciopoli scandal, when police investigators found a handful of clubs, most prominently Juventus, had indeed been interfering with the refereeing process. Since then, conspiracy theories are hatched almost daily and Inter, the Italian champions, are the noisiest accusers. A day before their meeting with Samp, Jose Mourinho, the Inter coach, upped the ante in the tireless discussion about refereeing by noting how widespread and vivid had been the analysis of the Bayern-Fiorentina controversy, in which Miroslav Klose scored the German club's winning goal from an offside position.
"Everybody's talking about it," Mourinho said. "People in Germany, people here in Italy, people everywhere." In this instance he was not offering his opinion on the decision, but defending the right to talk about it. Why? Because a few days earlier, Roberto Bettega, the Juve executive, had criticised Mourinho's comments about yet another controversial decision in Serie A: a penalty in Juve's favour.
"He should mind his own business," advised Bettega. Needless to say Mourinho ignored that counsel, and made the suggestion that in Serie A the penalty areas of teams playing against Juve appeared 50 per cent larger so referees could award more spot-kicks to the Old Lady. Mourinho's attitude to Saturday's flurry of cards was not so giggly, except when he feigned laughter at the booking of Eto'o. He also made an ostentatious gesture of putting his wrists together as if handcuffed, implying that Inter were prisoners of bad refereeing. He then refused to comment after the match on any issue, including Tagliavento's performance.
Had he done so, he would have found himself in a fierce debate. Individually, Tagliavento's decisions were all applicable. First, Walter Samuel was shown a yellow card for crashing awkwardly into Andrea Poli. Samuel's next offence earned a straight red card: obstructing Nicola Pozzi with his arm, just outside the penalty area. Next, the referee had little alternative but to book Ivan Cordoba for charging down the subsequent free-kick. Cordoba's next action, to clatter into Pozzi, was simply reckless. Tagliavento later sent off Sampdoria's Giampaolo Pazzini, another justified decision.
In time, the night be will recorded as another in which Inter, now only five points ahead of Roma, think they were hard done by, victimised by the referee. The trouble with this indignation is that it is contagious. In the Milan derby, Inter also had two men sent off. All this paranoia could cost the champions. firstname.lastname@example.org