Real Madrid are risking a UEFA investigation after Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos picked up late yellow cards during Wednesday’s 3-0 defeat of Galatasaray in the Spanish capital.
As both players came into the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal on the verge of one-match bans, their cautions—picked up in the final six minutes of normal time—have been characterized as “convenient,” since it means they will go into the semifinals with a clean slate.
If, however, UEFA looks into the matter and finds that the Madrid pair got themselves intentionally booked, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos could face additional suspensions, and manager Jose Mourinho could be punished as well.
Madrid, by virtue of an imperious performance and 3-0 victory, have one foot in the door to the next round, and how they go about planning for that semifinal is entirely up to them. If those preparations involve intentional bookings—and the inherent risk of UEFA penalties—that is their prerogative, and their risk.
Besides, it’s incredibly difficult to prove that a yellow card was, indeed, received intentionally by a player, and it’s unlikely that UEFA, in watching the replays of the incidents, will conclude that they have a leg to stand on and a case worth pursuing.
Unlike in 2010, when the same two players were judged to have pursued cautions in a Group Stage match against Ajax.
On that night, with Madrid ahead 4-0 and assured of a place in the Round of 16, both Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos earned yellow cards for time-wasting and, as each had already been booked by referee Craig Thompson, were dismissed from the match.
In the subsequent investigation, UEFA ruled that both players had received instructions from Mourinho that were delivered by Iker Casillas after back-up goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek left the bench to pass along the message. Mourinho was handed a two-match ban for his actions and all involved were fined.
If Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were again judged to have received intentional yellow cards, they would be suspended for two matches and miss the first leg of the semifinals.
But it’s not going to happen.
Xabi Alonso’s booking was for dissent rather than an act against an opponent, so it was always up to referee Svein Oddvar Moen to handle the abuse he was taking from the midfielder by his own discretion. Sergio Ramos, meanwhile, was booked for kicking the ball away after a foul on the edge of the Madrid box. Following the match he told the club’s official website that as he was hell-bent on defending Diego Lopez’ clean sheet he booted the ball into the stands out of frustration.
It goes without saying you can take his comments with a pinch of salt.
Although it can’t be proven, it’s highly likely that both players did, in fact, get themselves booked intentionally, but because they went about it rather more cleverly this time than in November 2010 they’ll go into the first leg against either Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Malaga without a yellow card beside their names.
And, really, it’s not that big a deal. Madrid know the risks just like anyone else, and they have a right to plan for upcoming matches as they see fit, even if their plans happen to bend, or even break, the rules.
There is far less of an outcry, for example, when a club fields a weakened side in preparation for a match it views as more important. No one will cry foul when the eventual Champions League semifinalists start their B squads on the Saturday prior to their final four engagements, even though the makeup of their teamsheets may have an effect on the standings of their domestic league.
Their play—their previous results—gave them the luxury to use the full depth of their squad to risk punishment by picking up intentional bookings, and if they can get away with it, all the power to them.
If they can’t, it’s just the risk they took.