Of yellow cards and sportsmanship

Does that look like the face of a man deliberately trying to get a yellow card? Really?

For the unfamiliar, the gimlet-headed, braying jackasses over at UEFA are considering slapping Andres Iniesta with an additional match ban for his “deliberate” picking up of a yellow, so as to serve the suspension in the meaningless away leg to Shakhtar, rather than the meaningful semi-final first leg. The decision will come down on Wednesday.

And the more I think about the Iniesta thing, the madder I get. The ref was card-happy that match, and in something of a peckish mood. Iniesta was just standing there, and appeared to be the correct distance away. And given that Iniesta only has about 6 yellows in his entire playing life, it isn’t at all beyond the realm that he could have played the rest of the Champions League without picking one up.

At the time that it happened, we all applauded the move, because he would serve his suspension against Shakhtar, who were dead and done in that tie. So we all presumed that he did it deliberately, right? And let’s assume for a moment that Iniesta did mean to pick up a yellow card, a tactic that is acquiring increasing legitimacy. Should he have waltzed over to a Shakhtar player and fouled the crap out of him, risking injury to himself and another player? Or is it easier to stand 9.5 paces away from the free kicker, looking innocent until the ref gives him the yellow card?

Good question.

I understand UEFA’s stance on the matter. Deliberately picking up yellows circumvents the spirit of the law, and isn’t sporting, right? The players should play the matches as intended, and take their chances during the run of play. This brings to mind another question, a tactical one: If a key player is in danger of being suspended for a crucial match, why isn’t the tactic of deliberate acquisition of a yellow card a viable option?

Instead, it’s one of those things that is spoken about in hushed tones, like a social disease. And we’ve all seen the yellow acquisition play, where some defender or midfielder runs over and decks somebody. Guess that’s okay.

The club has appealed the potential ban, whose roots lie in the officials match report in which is was said that in the view of the referees, Iniesta deliberately picked up the card. For shame!

This happens all the time. When a pair of EE players were, last season, deemed guilty of yellowus deliberatus, they were slapped with a fine, atop the served one-match ban. Even that doesn’t seem fair to me. You served the ban, and take a risk. If a team suffers a couple of key injuries and there you are, serving your deliberate ban, the club is screwed, right? A penalty should be a penalty.

In this very space, there was high dudgeon against the EE players in question. Many labeled the move shambolic, douchetastic and other delightful, disdain-laced adjectives. Not sure why, except for the presence of the morbo that spices up everything we do in relation to That Other Spanish Club.

The tactic is legitimate. Is it sporting? I’m of two minds on that. It certainly isn’t cheating. It is manipulating matters in a way that makes a situation more convenient for your club? Yep, kinda like subbing a player off so that he doesn’t pick up a second yellow in a match. Will UEFA be coming after coaches who do that, now? Picking up a deliberate yellow is a form of player management that should be left up to a club. The risk, as mentioned earlier, is in choosing to be without that player.

For UEFA to sashay in after the fact and deem something wrong is, in my opinion, incorrect. And yes, I would be writing the same thing if it were a key EE player. Or maybe I wouldn’t, mostly because I wouldn’t care. But I would certainly have the same worldview: Let the clubs and coaches manage their squads, and shut up. Lots of things are done in this game that dance the mambo around the spirit of the law. If you come rolling in with your Vulcan Intention Detector, saying someone meant to do something, where does it stop?

–And, if UEFA and other governing bodies want to find something to do, why don’t they mandate the length of a stadium’s grass? As we all know by now, on Saturday for El Clasic, Mourinho told the grounds crew not to cut the grass. It rocketed up to a soul-crushing 27-29mm in height. Yet another tactic that might or might not be sporting, right? It is any less or more sporting than picking up a deliberate yellow?

Good question. In both cases, the idea is to manipulate the match in a way that favors your squad. It’s the same reason that our grass is a buzz-cut 20-24mm in height, and watered like a rain-slicked highway. It helps our game, just like long grass helped the EE in its task of keeping us from doing anything.

And we’ve seen that tactic before from a Mourinho team. Recall the barren, muddy mess of a pitch that was Stamford Bridge, one year that we rolled in to face Chelsea in Champions League knockout play. And it kinda worked. So are UEFA fines forthcoming because of pitch condition? No, right? Why? Isn’t that every bit, if not more unsporting than picking up a deliberate yellow?

It’s yet another example of why governing bodies should govern the sport, and stay the hell out of day-to-day match play that doesn’t involve serious sanction. It’s as stupid as the other day, when the NBA issued a statement admitting that the referees blew the call in a recent playoff game. So what! Unless you’re going to change the outcome to reflect the shot that shouldn’t have been allowed, what’s the point?

And not that I would ever wish to be accused of having anything in common with former EE cheese Jorge Valdano, but this is what he said after UEFA chose to investigate whether Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso deliberately picked up second yellows in a match, to avoid being suspended for any knockout stage matches:

“I can’t go into details but there have been many players who have done something similar and were not punished. [The Lyon midfielder] Juninho was penalised financially. [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic and [Walter] Samuel, when they were at Inter, did something similar. There is no way to rely on the regulations.

“What happens at [my Lair of Evil]* also happens at other clubs but they [Uefa] are not as severe.”

(*Okay, maybe he didn’t say “Lair of Evil.” But he should have. –Editor)

Exactly. And here’s another thought for you conspiracy-seeking cules:

It probably isn’t all that hard to find a supporter or two who believes that UEFA wants to pave EE’s way into the Champions League Final by robbing us of one of our best players for a key match in their house. So they gin up an unusually severe penalty to effect that.

No, I don’t believe that. But when a governing body oversteps its bounds, the waters become suddenly muddy.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. April 19, 2011

    By the by, here’s my proposed Copa lineup:

    Pinto, Adriano, Pique, Milito, Maxwell, Mascherano, Keita, Thiago, Jeffren, Afellay, Pedro

    • Whatever
      April 19, 2011

      Ah, that’s only because you don’t care about the Copa. 🙂

      I’m sure Pep will roll out with Pinto, Alves, Pique, Puyol, Adriano, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa.

    • Sheena
      April 19, 2011

      Not to be dismissive, but that isn’t happening. Not in a final, and not against EE. Not in a million years. I can see Villa getting a rest. That’s about it.

      • April 19, 2011

        I wish that it would, though. Yes, I think that the Copa is a tercera-level tournament. But the opponent shouldn’t dictate the lineup. He’d probably consider that lineup against any other team. And that’s still a quality lineup, that wouldn’t get rolled over.

        • April 19, 2011

          Naah I don’t think Pep would consider that line up even if we played a lesser side. Let’s not forget that in 2008 against Biblao we played with pretty much the regulars Messi, Xavi, Toure, Puyi, Eto. Dani, Pique, were all there. I think Andresito and Henry were Injured and I can’t recall if Abi played left back..

    • April 19, 2011

      If the Copa final had been against any team other than RM, then maybe.

      Losing the Copa after drawing at Bernabeu would give a big boost of confidence to RM before the all-important champions league games. We have to win the Copa simply because RM shouldn’t be allowed to.

    • Blow-Grenade
      April 19, 2011

      Here is my lineup for the copa:

      Valdez, Alves Pique Puyol Adriano(Maxwell), Xavi Busi Iniesta, Messi Villa Pedro.

    • Eklavya
      April 19, 2011

      Sorry Kxevin, but whatever Pep says to the press, he and the players want the trophy and will give it all for it. Remember when we lost vs. Sevilla last season and came back with a XI full of starters in the 2nd leg? I expect pretty much the same with a few changes.

      My XI:

      Alves Pique Puyol Adriano
      Xavi Mascherano Afellay
      Pedro Messi Iniesta

    • soccermomof4
      April 19, 2011

      Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano if healthy
      one of the Xaviniesta, Keita
      Pedro, Messi, Afellay

  2. xavi
    April 19, 2011


    Cesc (Arsenal): “It
    seems I’ll never leave if I stay this
    summer. But I ’m only 23. One
    has to be patient and wait for
    the right moment” [db]

    Also heard he’s put his properties in London for sale… There you go it’s happening! He’s moving!!

  3. mei
    April 19, 2011

    Forget about what has happened before , repeatedly or has just viewed as habing set a precedence.

    There’s a fundamental problem with the way uefa currently takes such things into account :

    The game is played following specific rules , universally.
    These kind of rules are clearly written and most of the time, even if they seem like they are open to interpretation ,yet they are not.(you can call a penalty a soft one , but you cant overrule the referee because there’s no such word as a soft penalty in the dictionary of uefa.So a penalty is a penalty , like it or not because the man in charge said so and has acted upon the book of the game.)

    Accordingly, the reasons which a player gets awarded with a card , yellow or read , and the suspension that he should serve, are written and clear .

    Is there something mentioned about deliberately taking a yellow card ,that it should lead to a longer suspension?

    Does it mention that one should serve his suspension in an important match for his team(and if so how can you weigh something as important enough, really?) and only then?

    In short , does uefa regulations include the case of deliberately provoking a suspension? If they do , a rule is a rule.

    If its not , there’s still nothing to talk about.
    You can’t penalize a player unless the rules state so.

    If you the governing body is not satisfied with the current set of rules concerning this type of incidents , introduce a ruling that prevents them from happening in the next revision of the rules. You can’t change the rules in the middle of an ongoing tournament ,much so when it has reached its final stages.


  4. blitzen
    April 19, 2011

    *phew* I thought you broke the site for a while there, Kxevin. And when are the avatars coming back? I feel so naked.

    Now, stop kidding yourself. Iniesta got the card on purpose. I don’t know if Guardiola told him to (doubtful) or if he did it on his own account. I didn’t like it when Alonso and Ramos did it, and I don’t like it now, but I am fully aware that that it is a useful and sometimes necessary tactic. If UEFA wants to fine Iniesta or the club I won’t be upset it, but imposing an additional match ban on him would be both inconsistent and overly punitive. He has served out his one-match ban, just as Alonso and Ramos did. That should be the end of it.

    • April 19, 2011

      I don’t know that for sure, and neither does UEFA, is my point. Watch the replay of the incident. He’s standing there, and didn’t really move back all that much after getting the card. That ref was being a prick, as well, so who knows? You don’t know what’s in my head (so you can’t know if I’m kidding myself) any more than any of us (including UEFA) can know what’s in Iniesta’s. He was arguing pretty vociferously after he got the card, as well.

      Intent is a very, very difficult thing to prove. Iniesta only has 1 yellow in the league, and I can’t even remember what it was for, just like I can’t figure out how the heck he got 3 yellows in CL. Probably for dissent, like Xavi.

      Alonso and Ramos playing one yellow from a ban is very different from Iniesta playing one yellow from a ban. Messi’s been one yellow away from a suspension for some time now, right? Thought he might get one for booting the ball away in El Clasic, though.

    • Jim
      April 19, 2011

      Didn’t like it when RM did it and don’t like it now. I appreciate that nobody can know for sure but it was the referee’s judgement that he was looking for it and I have to say if he didn’t want it and knowing there was a ban on the end of another card he could easily have avoided it ( I say this as one of Iniesta’s biggest fans).

      As for there not being any rules against it I would imagine that the main one would be a charge of bringing the game into disrepute. Offences are given a card as a sign that the practice is unacceptable. Deliberately doing something unacceptable is not a “fair” way to play the game, especially if you are manipulating the process to advantage. I’d also imagine that UEFA’s stance in awarding the extra ban is that the current punishments aren’t curbing the practice so need to be upped to be punitive.

      It’s a bit like the yellow for diving. I’m sure some will get a card for it when they haven’t dived deliberately but that doesn’t mean we don’t have that punishment or don’t see it as necessary to stamp out the practice.

      • soccermomof4
        April 19, 2011

        Don’t like it when EE did it, don’t like it if we did it. Impose the same punishment as for Ramos and Casillas for consistency’s sake and then implement a stronger policy next year (danger being that we might see more fouls on opponents rather than harmless stupid-looking fouls).

  5. blitzen
    April 19, 2011

    I have a couple of vacation days this week, so I will be home to watch the Copa final and participate in the LiveBlog!

    Here is my lineup:

    Pinto and the Plait of Power
    Alves Pique Mascherano Adriano
    Iniesta Busquets Xavi
    Pedro!! Messi Villa

    Subs: Afellay (Villa), Keita (Xavi), Milito (Masch)  although I personally would rather see Fontas play than Milito, but I don’t think Pep will do that. Or if things are going really well, Thiago might come in instead of Keita.

  6. April 19, 2011

    Boy, Alves renews and shoes start dropping. Word out of Germany is that Ajax and Bayern have reached a deal on Van der Wiel for 10m. Might be nonsense, it must be said. The paper is TZ.

    • Josep
      April 19, 2011

      so, Coentrao to Bayern is maybe off now..

  7. Helge
    April 19, 2011

    Let’s wait how they’ll decide. I don’t think they have ever banned a player for a deliberate yellow card before, so it’ll be very hard to justify the additional ban.

    My Copa line-up:
    Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Adriano
    Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta
    Messi, Villa, Afellay

  8. Liva
    April 19, 2011

    For me, personally, the most curious thing is – how exactly does UEFA determine if the card was deliberate or not? Do they possess some kind of technology that allows them to get into the brains of the players and find out whether the card was intentional?

    Besides – the fines in these cases are ridiculous, in my opinion. I’m not really an expert, so correct me if I’m wrong, but, for example, if a player gets a red card, he won’t get a fine for that in addition to the match ban, will he? As a result, it means that UEFA are actually more OK with players hurting each other in reckless tackles than with them getting yellow cards for time wasting which, as far as I know, has yet to cause some serious physical damage to someone.

    • Eklavya
      April 19, 2011

      Well, when I first saw Iniesta, I thought it wasn’t deliberate but upon further thinking, I think it was deliberate.

      We were winning 3-0 at that point and his daughter had just been born that week.

      His “What?Me?” shrug was pretty convincing at the first time. At least, more than Alonso and Ramos 🙂

    • KevinO
      April 20, 2011

      I think the fine thing is based primarily on the assumption that the card-thing is unsportsmanlike and deliberate..

    • blitzen
      April 19, 2011

      His choices are based on players on the teams only in the last 10 years. He picks only two from the current RM side, and seven from the current Barca squad. 😀

    • Miguel
      April 19, 2011

      Alves-Márquez-Puyol-Van B
      Guardiola(he played his last game in 2001)

  9. April 19, 2011

    Off topic and a little late, but I’ve been thinking about Mourinhos tactics in Saturdays Classico. At first, I was a little dismayed and believed the hype that Mou had done something genius and he figured us out. But then I thought about it in a different way. Mou’s tactic of using Pepe as a DM (which btw was a position he already had played for Portugal this past world cup) and then subbing ozeil only gave them a tie at home and pretty much lost them the league. So not really genius or tactical at all, and the bigger problem is he showed his hand in the first most meaningless of the four classicos. Unless he has a special “genius” plan for the next three matches, Pep knows exactly what to expect now. And although we were somewhat lackluster and tentative to move forward with the ball. We now know what to expect in at least the next game (which is for silverware) and we maintain control of the league. And one proper clearance and we wouldn’t have given up a penalty. This makes me very optimistic because Pep has the advantage tactically and can surprise EE with whatever hes been planning, or save it for the CL tie. It’s just like poker, you gotta know when to hold em, and my money is that Pep is holding on to something nice.

  10. Josep
    April 19, 2011

    Couple of things.

    1. I thought it was comical that UEFA fined the 2 Madrid players (it was this season Kxevin, I believe match day 5, unless you’re referring to last year as 2010, not last season). I was all against it, as players do this all the time, especially in Spain. I remember Alves’ time wasting last year a week before the Madrid match.

    2. There’s no way this is possible. Why does this come out NOW? Surely, the match report has been filed for 2-3 weeks now, no? And why is the decision on WEDNESDAY. the day of our next game. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so don’t say that, I just think its unfortunate. And STUPID! First off, it didn’t even seem to be deliberate. Second, the last offense was a fine, and nothing else, and that was in the same season. You can’t just change an unwritten rule.

    3. Kxevin I don’t think anyone was pleased with the yellow though.. it was 3-0, and Shakhtar scored on the very same FK. but once we scored a minute later we liked it. 😀

  11. nzm
    April 19, 2011

    I’d like to see:

    Alves Puyol Pique Adriano
    Busquets Mascherano
    Xavi Iniesta Afellay

    Reserves Bench: VV, Maxwell, Villa, Pedro, Keita

    Highly improbable, but wouldn’t it be fun? 🙂

    They’re taking this Copa match very seriously, folks. Around here, in Barcelona, it’s important, no matter how nonchalent they try to appear. If it was called anything else but the King’s Cup, (together with the history with what that means in these here parts), there would be more visible, transparent desire. That it is the “King’s” (i.e. associated with Madrid) is the factor that is keeping all the talk undercover and subdued. They want it – if only to have a shot at Las Tres Copas again.

  12. robertg
    April 20, 2011

    I’m glad to be a member of this blog. I pretty much searched across all the blogs and stumbled by at this blog, It is by far the best blog in the internet for all football lovers like us.Unlike other blogs it doesn’t reeks of favouritism not withstanding the fact that its a barcelona blog.
    P.s I just now found out that iniesta will be playing in the next champions league encounter against the real. so it appears more of a omen for me.

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