How ridiculous was Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Ajax on Tuesday? There were eight goals, two penalties, two red cards, VAR controversies, a stunning comeback, a disallowed winner, and a partridge in a pear tree. We might be exaggerating about the last one...
At the centre of it all was Italian referee and new Chelsea fan favourite Gianluca Rocchi, who achieved the rare feat of sending off two players from the same team during a single stoppage in play for two different offences.
The red cards administered to Ajax centre-halves Daley Blind and Joel Veltman - Blind for a foul and Veltman for deliberate handball - helped Chelsea mount a fightback from 4-1 down to earn a point against their severely-depleted visitors in a Champions League group which could barely be tighter with two games to play.
“We should just talk about our game because we were 4-1 up and everything was under control and then one man steals everything from us,” said Ajax forward Dusan Tadic in the aftermath of the man in the middle.
Rocchi is not new to controversy, having officiated many matches in his native Italy which have descended into farce. But he is far from the only official to have become the centre of attention, as The Sportsman examines below…
The official who forgot what a penalty was
Just over 10 years ago at the very same venue, Chelsea found themselves on the receiving end of a controversial refereeing performance, although this time it was thanks to a man who kept his hands firmly in his pockets. Tom Henning Ovrebo refused to award a penalty on four separate clear-cut occasions against Barcelona, the last of which led to Michael Ballack all-but head-butting the Norwegian referee, on a night which remains embedded in the memory of the Chelsea collective.
Blues striker Didier Droga unapologetically screeching down the camera in consternation after the full-time whistle, having been denied the chance to reach a second consecutive Champions League final, remains one of the prevailing footballing images of the late 2000s.
Just a week ago, 2007 Ballon d’Or winner Kaka found himself not only on the receiving end of a yellow card, but also an unexpected selfie… with the referee!
During a ‘peace match’ in Israel between a Veterans XI and a Brazil XI, the former AC Milan and Real Madrid ace found himself stopped mid-play and booked. The look of confusion dissipated when the official, Lilach Asulin, pulled out her mobile phone and proceeded to take the snap. Brazil won the match 4-2.
Refereeing through interpretive dance
Jorge Jose Emiliano dos Santos from the Copacabana is a bonafide football hero. He began his refereeing career in the late 1980s, attracting attention with his more flamboyant officiating in his native Brazil.
Nicknamed Margarida, ‘The Daisy Flower’, dos Santos sadly died in 1995. However, his legacy lived on in the form of his compatriot, Clésio Moreira dos Santos, who impressively Nijinsky-ed his way across the pitch in equally eye-catching fashion, as seen below.
I mean, where’s the fun in refereeing if you’re awarding a corner without skipping theatrically over to the actual corner flag, arching your back and pointing directly at the blade of grass where the ball belongs?
The OTHER Gazza yellow card
Dougie Smith made himself no friends in the mid-90s when he showed a card to beloved England legend Paul Gascoigne during a match between Rangers and Hibs. The crime? Gazza collecting and handing back the yellow card from the turf, albeit in a comical bit of mimicry, after it had dropped out of Smith’s pocket. The humourless Smith promptly put the midfielder’s name in the book. Yellow cards had been known to reduce Gazza to tears, but this one brought about only complete bewilderment.
The one and only...
No list of referees could be complete without our man Mike Dean, recently etching himself into football history with 100 red cards to his name. That’s Refereeing Hall of Fame worthy, is that.
The Englishman has broken pretty much every record you can think of, and his century in the Premier League dwarfs the second-highest tally by an English top-flight official, with Phil Dowd on 67. More than that, he goes about absolutely everything with one of his couldn’t-care-less I’m-the-man expressions, leaving players under no illusions as to who is in charge.
Never the wallflower, Dean has attracted attention away from the job too, being pictured wildly celebrating his side Tranmere Rovers’ League Two play-off final win over Newport County in 2019.