thumbnail Hello,

The two finalists will be forced to deploy several backups next month as accumulated bookings have ruled six players out of the contest. explains why it's time for change

By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor

Every year, millions of viewers from around the world tune in to watch Europe’s top two teams play in the Champions League final. They will be disappointed to find that this season, the contenders will not be the continent’s best.

This is not a dig at Bayern Munich or Chelsea, both of whom deserved to advance to play on Europe's greatest stage. However, the teams that feature at the Allianz Arena on May 19 will be markedly different from those that participated in the semi-finals.

In total, seven players (four from Chelsea, three from Bayern) will miss out on the final. All but one, John Terry, picked up a one-match ban for accumulated bookings: an alarming statistic that serves as evidence that Uefa must reconsider their rules over suspensions for yellow card infractions.

As it stands, players will be banned if they collect three, five, seven (and subsequent odd numbered) single yellow cards in separate matches during and after the group stage. Only after qualification and play-off rounds are bookings wiped out.

Between the group stage and the final, there are 12 matches to be negotiated, with the competition growing increasingly difficult over the last six games. Bookings are bound to happen, especially in such high-stake ties. Based on the current rules, it is far, far too easy for a player to be suspended for what might be the most important game of his career.







Some might say that rules are rules, and that the best way to avoid suspension is to avoid making rash challenges and play fairly. The trouble is, there is too much room for error in deciding whether or not to book a player.

To begin with, not every team have an equally difficult path to the final. There is almost always a Group of Death in any round-robin competition, while other top sides might have a far simpler group to manoeuvre. Similarly, in the knockout phase, some group winners are more fortunate than others. It goes without saying that a team involved in contentious, highly-charged matches will be more likely to earn yellow cards, and therefore, more likely to accrue multiple suspensions.

Consider the recent tie between Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, a clash of the titans that was bound to see plenty of yellow waved at both teams. Previously, the Germans had faced Manchester City, Napoli and Villarreal in Group A, and later a Basel side that had previously eliminated Manchester United. Heading into the semi-final, several Bayern players were walking a tightrope to avoid suspension.

By contrast, Real Madrid encountered a far more negotiable trio of Lyon, Ajax and Dinamo Zagreb in the group stage. CSKA Moscow and APOEL followed before the Bayern tie: neither of the former were world beaters, and with all things considered, the Spanish giants were fortunate to have avoided the perennial heavyweights - and the inevitable bookings that come against such opposition - before the semi-finals. Jose Mourinho's men were, for the most part, safe from suspension, and would have had a full-strength team had they made the final.

The draw is not the only opportunity for a lottery to affect player bans. Equally important is referee selection. Ideally, players would be held to the same standards in every match in international competition. However, referees bring culture from their respective domestic leagues, and often cannot and do not change their interpretation in the Champions League.

Regardless of the competition at stake, a player will, by habit, act according to the refereeing standard he is accustomed to in domestic play. Whether an infraction is interpreted as legal or foul, and worthy of a yellow card, a red, or neither, depends on the standards of the referee chosen to officiate the game at hand. And that is beyond the control of any player.

The regulations of the competition are established at the beginning of the competition and remain in place for the duration of the season

Uefa spokesman to Press Association

Finally, there is room for error in a referee's perception of events as they occur. In the age of slow-motion replays and multiple camera angles, it is easy to scrutinise a match official for making the wrong call. They are only human, and they cannot be expected to get things right every time. But when a mistake can lead to one missing out on the biggest game of his career, surely there must be greater allowances for players.

In the World Cup, yellow cards are erased after the quarter-final stage, meaning that a player can only be suspended for the final if he is sent off during the last-four. The rule has been embraced by many, as it helps preserve the spirit of the game without being too lenient on players. Uefa would be wise to follow suit, or revert to their old regulation where more leniency is afforded.

Sadly for Bayern, Chelsea, and their fans, there will be no rule changes to affect next month's final. The two finalists will each be forced to field weakened sides after a Uefa spokesman confirmed on Thursday that any alterations would have to take place before the tournament resumes, not while it is running.

Fans want it, players want it, and there is a perfect precedent from Fifa to pave the way for more reasonable rules for disciplinary action in the Champions League. The 2012 final may be entertaining, but it sadly will not be what it could have been. Uefa must act this summer to avoid a repeat - the fans and players deserve it.

Follow Clark Whitney on