UEFA announced yesterday that the referee for the second-leg Champions League semi at Anfield would be Lubos Michel (above) from Slovakia. He’s never before refereed a match involving Liverpool. He was the referee in the Chelsea win over Roman Abramovich’s other team (CSKA Moscow) in October last year. Chelsea won 2-0.
That wasn’t his first involvement with Jose Mourinho though. Mourinho, who earlier this season contributed to the retirement of referee Anders Frisk, came across this referee two years ago as manager of Porto. Celtic fans will never forget this referee.
The occasion was the UEFA Cup Final at the Estadio Olimpico, in 2003. Celtic had knocked Liverpool out on the way to the final, and they met FC Porto, managed by the current Chelsea boss Mourinho.
The game ended 3-2 in Porto’s favour – Porto winning in extra time.
It was an extremeley controversial game. Afterwards former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen said, "Unfortunately the game wasn’t played in the best of spirits. The Porto players were rolling all over the pitch and there’s no excuse for it."
Both sides had a player sent off – Celtic lost Balde after 95 minutes, Porto lost their player at a time when it was too late for Celtic to do anything about it.
Celtic’s boss Martin O’Neill was extremely unhappy. He said, "I will probably get into trouble for this, but it was poor sportsmanship. The rolling over, the time wasting. But they have beaten us, well done to them and it’s up to us to learn from this. It is a steep learning curve, but this was a wonderful, wonderful experience."
The loss of Balde was the biggest factor in Celtic’s defeat as far as O’Neill was concerned at the time: "The players put everything into it and the fans have been fantastic. We came roaring back every time they scored a goal and, if when we had 11 against 11 in extra time, I think we were the more mentally strong. But it was not to be with Bobo getting sent off. It was a massive blow."
Jose Mourinho’s comments were what you’d expect from him. At least what you’d expect from him now that you know a little bit more about him. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with his players’ time wasting and diving, saying when asked, "I’d prefer to ask whether the behaviour of the Celtic players was normal in your country. What Balde did to Deco in front of me could have ended his career."
So does Mourinho like this referee? It seems so, as Mourinho said back then, "The referee didn’t affect the result, in that there were no doubtful decisions, but I think Balde could have had a direct red for his foul and Thompson could also have seen a second yellow card on two occasions. The referee wanted to end the game with 11 against 11 and I think maybe he was a bit afraid to send anyone off."
He then said, "There was a lot of commitment in Celtic’s game, commitment, toughness and aggression. I’m tempted to use another word – but I won’t."
The referee is also well-known to Harry Kewell. The Reds winger could be back in action from the start tomorrow night, and was a Leeds player when he came across Lubos Michel in another UEFA semi-final. It was back in 2000, in the second-leg of the UEFA Cup semi-final, when Leeds went out on aggregate to Galatasary. Michel sent Kewell off for "stamping" on an opponent, but replays clearly showed that Kewell had been trying to avoid contact with his opponent.
Rafa Benitez came across the referee as coach of Valencia in 2003 during a Champions League Group game against Ajax. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, but a booking for Baraja meant he would be suspended for the next game against Arsenal.
This referee booked eight players back in February when he took charge of the game between Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League. Liverpool have a more than one player that have a suspension waiting for them if they get a booking tonight – and Carragher is one of those.