There are worse things in football than getting deliberately sent off
After Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos’s red cards for Real Madrid, Uefa might do better to ignore the fuss
Not much seems to be going smoothly for Scottish referees at the moment, but whatever your take on the rights and wrongs of the escalating situation that may lead to a strike in the SPL spare a thought for Craig Thomson, the Renfrewshire official who was caught up in another difficult situation not of his own making in Europe last night.
Last month, Thomson was the referee who was forced to abandon the Italy v Serbia European qualifier after seven minutes due to mayhem on the terraces. On Tuesday night in the Amsterdam Arena he must have thought he was in calmer waters as Real Madrid comfortably scored four goals to no reply against Ajax in the Champions League, yet with the clock on 85 minutes José Mourinho’s team proved otherwise.
Briefly, Real contrived to have two men dismissed for second yellows in the last five minutes of the game, conveniently forcing them to miss the last, meaningless group game against Auxerre but be ready with a clean slate when the competition resumes again after Christmas. If you missed this priceless bit of low cunning and dubious drama, simply search for Xabi Alonso red card or Sergio Ramos red card and judge for yourself whether the two endlessly hesitant takers of restarts knew what they were doing.
With five minutes to go Alonso takes an eternity to launch a free kick from his own half, stopping at least twice on the run up then each time going back to take a longer one. With Ajax players complaining bitterly, the referee eventually comes across to produce the necessary second yellow and order him off. Then, in the 90th minute, no less, Ramos takes a goal kick instead of the goalkeeper and is similarly tardy, clearly to the annoyance of the Ajax captain. The Ajax captain happens to be Luis Suárez, that well known Uruguayan pillar of fair play, the one who gained notoriety in South Africa by keeping out a goal-bound shot with his hands then celebrating as Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent last-minute penalty. (See article on this incident at http://cameronduodu.com/uncategorized/why-oh-why-uruguay
Suárez has also just been dubbed “the cannibal of Ajax” by the Dutch press, fined by his own club and could be banned for seven matches by the Dutch Football Federation after biting an opponent on the shoulder in the last league game against PSV, but never mind that for now. Suárez complains furiously about Ramos’s unsporting behaviour, and even though the result is certain and the game is in its dying seconds, the referee decides he has a point and shows the Real defender red. To complete the pantomime, Ramos shakes Thomson’s hand before leaving the pitch, Mourinho jumps up in his technical area and begins reorganising his troops as if he has just lost a key player with the game scoreless and an hour still to play, and afterwards, naturally, everyone from Madrid denies that there was any kind of pre-arranged plan.
So what should happen now? Before considering that, let us return to what happened on the night, and see if anything else could or should have been done differently. It is easy to say that Thomson should have seen through the ruse, but even if he did, what alternative action could he have taken? Leaving aside considerations of premeditation and convenience, he was confronted by two clear examples of unsporting behaviour, timewasting, and reluctance to restart the game. Maybe, to make the official’s job easier, the Ajax players and spectators ought not to have complained but fallen about laughing instead, indicating that now the result was beyond them they couldn’t care less how long it took Real to restart.
Maybe, but football doesn’t really work like that, and neither do referees have a remit for such lenience. Their chief consideration at such times is to get the game restarted as quickly as possible – otherwise players would undoubtedly start re-tying their bootlaces or changing their shin-pads before taking free kicks – and regardless of whether he knew what Real’s timewasters were up to Thomson had little choice but to observe the normal rule book.
Uefa now have a choice over whether to take any further action or sweep the matter under their capacious carpet. They probably ought not to do anything retrospectively, since any wrongdoing on the part of Alonso and Ramos would, even if proven, amount only to exploitation of an obvious and long-standing loophole in the rules as they presently stand. Plenty of other players have done the same. They could consider bringing in an umbrella charge for the future, that of bringing the game into disrepute, which carries a two- or three-match suspension, in the hope that such a threat would dissuade players from skulduggery. Perhaps something even more clever could be dreamed up. Dead rubbers could be excluded for suspension purposes, for example, or players warned in advance of these foreseeable and fairly regularly occurring situations that anything resembling a deliberate booking would count double.
Or maybe Uefa should simply ignore the fuss and carry on. It is not, after all, as if a major injustice has been perpetrated. Nothing comparable to what Suárez got away with in Soccer City in July. While one could feel a bit sorry for the referee in Amsterdam, sympathy was limited for the Ajax captain, and it is hard to cast Mourinho and his players as villains. Perhaps when you have qualified with a couple of games to spare, then taken a 4-0 lead away from home in your penultimate group match, you have earned the right to bend the rules a little. Even if it was not the most edifying of spectacles right at the end, there are definitely worse things in football to complain about.