Master tactics or merely a coincidence?
That’s the question after Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso both earned suspensions for yellow card accumulation during their first-leg Champions League match against Galatasaray. Both players were cautioned towards the end of the match meaning they will be suspended for the second-leg of the quarter-final in Istanbul on April 9. UEFA rules state that any player who accumulates three yellow cards during the Champions League knockout stages is suspended for his next match.
The theory is that Ramos and Alonso – as directed by Mourinho – intentionally got themselves booked knowing that Madrid’s three goal cushion essentially renders the second leg a mere formality. For Galatasaray fans it’s an offensive suggestion but is nevertheless worth exploring as UEFA rules state that players who deliberately seek a booking can be handed a two-game ban.
The problem, of course, is proving that Ramos and Alonso deliberately sought the booking. At the moment the best evidence is that both players went into the book when the match was 3-0 with time nearly having expired. Alonso was booked in the 84th minute for an angry confrontation with referee Svein Oddvar Moen, who made a host of questionable decisions throughout the night. Six minutes later, Ramos followed suit as he kicked the ball away after committing a foul. While one could argue that both instances indicate a desire to be cautioned as they were innocuous occurrences transpiring outside the run of play, proving intent seems impossible unless Ramos and Alonso admit to their misdeeds.
Even assuming UEFA somehow manages to prove intent, the ramifications could be devastating as players will thereafter have to be even more convincing in their efforts to be booked. This could result in intentional fouls comitted during the run of play, which raises the potential for injury. It’s a slippery slope that UEFA is on with this rule and one that, if the governing body is not careful, could get out of hand.
In all likelihood Ramos and Alonso will not be assessed a two match ban. But a variety of penalties could ensue, as there is precedence.
Three years ago both Ramos and Alonso were sent off in a Champions League knockout stage match at Ajax. Late in that game Madrid was winning 4-0 when the duo, both one card away from suspension, wasted time during free-kicks. They were each issued second yellow cards, sent off and suspended for the irrelevant final group game. But when the next round of games came both enjoyed a clean slate. UEFA thereafter handed Jose Mourinho a two-game suspension and a £35,000 fine, while Ramos and Alonso were each fined £18,000.
If you’re sitting there reading this and thinking, ‘holy crap, that’s nuts‘, that’s because it is nuts. It’s nuts that UEFA can assess such steep penalties on an intent-heavy rule but it’s even more nuts that Mourinho is that clever of a manger. He knew the rule, recognized the loophole and did his best to access it.
And you wonder why we call him ‘The Special One’.