Nov 24, 2010

Real Madrid Red Cards

UEFA is launching an investigation in to the two red cards earned by Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso in yesterday's 4-0 win over Ajax. Ramos had picked up a yellow card in the 33rd minute and Xabi in the 68th minute. They then each received second yellow cards for blatantly delaying the re-start of play in the 87th (Alonso) and 90th (Ramos) minutes.

The result of the sending off for each player is that their disciplinary records are wiped clean, including their yellow card accumulation. The important players for Real will begin the group stage without concerns of yellow card accumulation. The UEFA investigation will apparently focus on whether or not Real Madrid Manager Jose Mourinho ordered or directed the players to take the second yellow cards in a way to game the system.

Now, everyone is up in arms and calling for Ramos and Alonso to serve more than their one game suspension they receive as a result of their sending off. I say no-they shouldn't be punished more than the one game and neither should UEFA punish Mourinho or Real Madrid.

First, Ramos and Alonso, two men who generally don't fear going into to a tackle, could have picked up second yellows for all manner of fouls. If for example, Ramos had pulled down an Ajax attacker on a counterattack--a tactical foul requiring the issuance of a yellow card--no one would be talking about extending the single game ban. So, if the two men earn a yellow card for a non-physical, delaying the re-start of play, then the players should be applauded for not endangering any Ajax player.

Second, the rules on yellow card accumulation and the fact that red cards wipe away yellow card accumulation are well-known. Real Madrid will not need Ramos or Alonso in a meaningless final group stage match. For UEFA to change the rules in the middle of a tournament is patently unfair to Real Madrid, who looked at the rules, realized the impact and suffer the consequences.

If UEFA want to punish or prevent this kind of behavior in the future, then UEFA should not allow disciplinary records to be wiped clean for two yellow cards in a game. And to be frank, I think that is what may be necessary. But UEFA cannot change this rule in mid-stream.

Is what Ramos and Alonso (and perhaps Mourinho) did unsporting? Yes. Ramos and Alonso get a one game ban. Are they thankful for the break--maybe. So their unsporting behavior is being punished according to the rules set down already. The fact that they are smart enough to realize their yellow card accumulation, act upon it in a way that aids their club in the long run, does not harm an opposing player, and do so under the current rule is understandable. I don't necessarily want to applaud the action, but I can understand their action--both as a player and as a referee.

In the end, I think UEFA's investigation should continue, but I don't think it should be used for punishing this action but rather inform some changes to the rules in next year's competition. I don't think group stage yellow card accumulation should be wiped out until the quarterfinals. I do believe that accumulation should apply in the knockout stages into the semi-finals--even if a player misses the final.

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