It’s not often that a team win 4-0 away from home in the Champions League and the fine performance and result gets ignored completely.
But when you’re Real Madrid and you have Jose Mourinho in charge, that’s just another day in the office.
The nine-time European champions demolished four-time winners Ajax on Tuesday night, but you’ll be forgiven if you’ve already forgetten what the scoreline was. Because all the attention, ofcourse, was focused on the farcical dismissals of Madrid duo Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos.
UEFA have decided post-match to open an investigation into the deliberate red cards which will rule both Alonso and Ramos out of the final group game, against Auxerre, but crucially wipe their yellow card count clean when the competition enters the knockout phase.
To many, the Blancos pair did nothing wrong, and they were perfectly in the right to take advantage of (or nullify) a rule by UEFA which states that three yellow cards in three separate matches warrants a suspension, and if the limit isn’t reached in the group stages, it is carried forward to the next phase.
Others accused them of cheating, unsporting behaviour and not respecting the spirit of fair play. But such tactics and manipulation of the rules are all now part of the game.
Football today consists of players taking advantage to gain the upperhand over their rivals any legal way they can, whether it’s placing the ball two yards further ahead in a freekick, players talking trash on the field to rile up their opponents, defenders subtly impeding forwards off the ball, forwards milking a foul from defenders, teams taking longer than usual to re-emerge from the dressing room at halftime to annoy the other side, the list goes on.
Would this discussion not have taken place if Xabi intentionally committed a series of bad, potentially dangerous tackles to draw a second yellow card? Would that have made it better? Would it have been more subtle if Sergio Ramos had handled the ball or simulated a dive to extract a booking?
It doesn't help that the images splashed across the press worldwide has turned this incident into a scandal.
Mourinho can be seen here hatching up his plan with one of his coaching staff...
Jerzy Dudek was then spotted passing on the orders to Iker Casillas...
...who then whispered the scheme to Sergio Ramos.
Video footage of Mourinho sending out his special instruction to Xabi Alonso can also been seen below.
The question isn’t whether it was deliberate or not. Ofcourse it was deliberate. No footballer would intentionally get sent off in a match without a reason or a motive. And equally, no player, no matter how blatant the red card, would leave the pitch without pleading their innocence first with the referee.
The question really is whether Xabi and Sergio did anything wrong within the rules of the game. UEFA have dished out fines and bans for parties who endanger the integrity of the competition and bring the sport into disrepute, or fail to respect the spirit of fair play. But there are no rules stating that it is illegal for a player to deliberately obtain a red or yellow card, unless he insults/assaults the referee, deceives match officials into making incorrect decisions, or assaults a fellow player.
The only crime that they committed was their cringeworthy Razzie acting performances. Xabi’s attempt to invent a new dance step was comical, even more so on the replays, and Ramos’ little sock-rolling routine and handshake with the referee just made it all look dubious.
But it’s quite clear that Xabi and Ramos did bend and take advantage of the rules. It’s something that happens in almost every match every weekend in different forms and guises. Should they be punished for that?