Such a fuss

There are worse things in foot­ball than get­ting de­lib­er­ately sent off.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FOOTBALL - by PAUl Wil­SON

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 no­to­rie- ty 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.

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 three­match 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. – Guardian News & Me­dia 2010

Take a break, son: Joes Mour­inho in­sists that Ser­gio Ramos goes Christ­mas shop­ping in­stead of play­ing the last, mean­ing­less Cham­pi­ons League group game against Aux­erre.

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