For those of you who missed the Copa Del Rey matches between Barcelona and Real Madrid, you missed some of the best soccer the modern world has to offer. Unfortunately, that also meant that the game was plagued by some of the most unsportsmanlike conduct. Whether or not you want to blame it on the fierce rivalry of the two teams, is up to you.
Although it is hard to discount masterful goals by Cristiano Ronaldo, Carles Puyol, and Dani Alves, unmistakably blatant flops and unsportsmanlike conduct make enjoying the game a lot tougher for fans. The referee’s issued a total of 15 yellow cards and one red card over the course of the two matches.
In the second half of the 1st leg, after Real Madrid’s Callejón was carded for a foul on Messi, Pepe brushes past Messi, who’s still on the ground, and stutter-steps on his hand quite blatantly en route to approaching the referee. With no card awarded for the offense, Barca fans were outraged. Pepe has since issued a public apology.
In the 2nd leg, Sergio Ramos was called for his second yellow card for what seemed to be a much less intentional offense, challenging Barca’s Sergio Busquets. In the wake of the match, Real Madrid announced that it will appeal the second yellow card, which is a risky move. Teams and players can be further punished for an appeal that is not taken seriously. See video of the foul below:
Any sport at this caliber of play must allow the officials to retain power over the players and the game. NFL players like Nadamukong Suh that continually let their emotions best them in lashing out unsportsmanlike during games are not exclusive to American football. While the NFL doesn’t have the same yellow & red card rules enabling immediate ejection of players, the problem persists across sports around the world. In the NBA, players guilty of flopping are fined and sometimes suspended for repeat offenses. It is the job of the leagues to ensure players that show such disrespect for the game be met with appropriate penalty, and discouraged from continual offense.
Finally then, we can dig deeper into what constitutes misconduct warranting a yellow or a red card in association football. A yellow card may be given if a player dissents by word or action, deliberately delays restart of play, fails to respect required distances from restart of play, and entering, re-entering or leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission.
Yellow cards are also awarded for unsportsmanlike conduct, including excessive celebration, simulating actions intended to deceive officials (aka diving), or recklessly challenging or tackling another player.
Red cards are automatically given for a second yellow card offense, and may be given in the event of serious foul play, violent conduct, using abusive or offensive gestures or language, spitting at an opponent or any other person, denying the opposing team a goal or goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball.
The largest area of controversy surrounding these provisions is the interpretation left up to referees. Obviously though, the challenge by Sergio Ramos was absent the same violent intention as Pepe’s stepping on Messi’s hand. Looking at the slow motion replay, it’s clear that Pepe stutter-steps with his head down, then as he breaks away he looks up (see video below)
Sadly, we may never achieve perfection in the way matches are officiated. We are all subject to our own biases about when the opposing team flops, or our players are fouled. Nevertheless, players and fans of the game must be in agreement that a cleaner game allows fans to enjoy more of what they love: the beauty and the excitement of professional caliber soccer.
Skip to 2:40 to see slow motion replay.