UEFA should throw rule book at Real Madrid
What would happen if the police suddenly declared that petty
criminals – small-time shoplifters and tax-dodgers, drunk drivers
and the like – would no longer be caught and punished? It’s a safe
bet there would be public outrage and fears that the foundations of
law and order were being eroded.
Soccer should be no different.
There is an ill-informed school of thought which wrongly
theorizes that European soccer bosses shouldn’t be too harsh on
Real Madrid for the slippery gamesmanship of its coach and players
in the Champions League this week.
Those in favor of turning a blind eye like to pretend that
midfielder Xabi Alonso and defender Sergio Ramos didn’t really do
anyone any harm when they contrived to get themselves sent off in
the final minutes of Real’s 4-0 defeat of Netherlands team
Although Real coach Jose Mourinho and his players dismissed the
idea that they deliberately courted the red cards, their actions on
the pitch suggested otherwise.
By blatantly wasting time – their ham-acting was as exaggerated
as comedian Benny Hill, just not so funny – Alonso and Ramos
forced, nearly begged, referee Craig Thomson to book them. Alonso
slunked off with barely a complaint; after his red card, Ramos went
out of his way to shake the referee’s hand.
”It looks, frankly, terrible,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
said. ”It gives a very bad image of our game that we don’t
But wonderfully convenient for Alonso and Ramos. Earlier in the
match, both had already been shown yellow cards for fouling. They
both got a yellow in previous matches, too, so both now had an
accumulated total of two yellows. That was bad for Real, because
players who accumulate three cautions in three Champions League
matches must then miss a game as punishment.
Mourinho doesn’t want to be without Ramos and Alonso when the
next, even more financially lucrative knock-out phase of Europe’s
top club competition starts in February 2011.
Both played on Spain’s World Cup-winning side. Mourinho needs
Alonso to spray balls from the midfield to his goal scorers up
front. He relies on Ramos to guard Real’s back.
So it made more sense that Alonso and Ramos take their
punishment now, rather than later, when the stakes will be far
higher. Earn that third yellow against Ajax, get the automatic
one-match suspension quickly out of the way.
Which is what they did. Alonso took an eternity to take a free
kick, repeatedly stopping and restarting his run-up to run down the
clock. Ramos fiddled with his right sock and similarly dawdled
before taking a goal kick. So out came a yellow for both from
Thomson which, because it was their second in the game, became a
They will now sit out Real’s last Champions League group game, a
Dec. 8 match against French team Auxerre that Mourinho can afford
to lose because his team has already qualified comfortably for the
Their slate of accumulated cards almost wiped clean (they now
have just one yellow each), Alonso and Ramos will be able to worry
less about the risk of missing a match in the knock-out stage. They
will be able to tackle harder, be a little rougher and play with
less caution, safe in the knowledge that they are not so close to
Blinded by his charisma, Real’s supporters suggest that its
apparent rule-bending is further proof of Mourinho’s ”magic.”
They argue that Ramos and Alonso committed nothing more serious
that the soccer equivalent of telling a white lie, naughty but
ultimately harmless and without real consequence.
They say that because there are other, far bigger wrongs in
soccer, the misdemeanor of deliberately earning a card isn’t worth
bothering with. Let the petty criminals go.
They are wrong.
As in life, those that police soccer must ensure that the game’s
rules – all the rules, in both letter and spirit – are respected,
at all times, by everyone.
Otherwise, there is no point having rules and bodies to enforce
them. Allowing people to think that minor rules can be broken with
impunity erodes the authority of the whole rule book. Ignoring
minor violations invites bigger violations.
Alonso and Ramos, as World Cup winners, and Real, as the
top-earning team in world soccer, should set examples of fair play
and sportsmanship, not show how rules can be circumvented.
Soccer is already rife with cynical gamesmanship: players diving
in front of goal to try to win penalties, acting as if they’re
mortally wounded when fouled, pretending they’ve been hit or
elbowed in the face to get opponents sent off.
All the more reason that UEFA should take a stand and throw the
rule book at Real if it can prove that it orchestrated the red
cards for Alonso and Ramos. UEFA is investigating and plans to hear
the case next Tuesday.
Champions League rules don’t specifically state that players are
forbidden from deliberately trying to earn a card.
Nor should they have to.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The
Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org