Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Have Jose Mourinho and Real Madrid Shamed Football?

During Tuesday night's Champions League game between Real Madrid and Ajax, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos appeared to get themselves sent off on purpose. Dutch broadcaster NOS showed footage of Jose Mourinho apparently issuing instructions to Alonso moments before the midfielder received his marching orders.

UEFA have now decided to investigate both sendings-off.

The video footage from NOS appears to implicate Jose Mourinho and one of Real Madrid's coaches, who passes information on to Iker Casillas. The World Cup-winning goalie then calls Sergio Ramos before whispering in his ear.

The fact that the game was over at 4-0 to Madrid with just four minutes left on the clock should not take away from the alleged cheating on show.

With both players already on one yellow card, they then wasted time to such an extent that Scottish referee Craig Thomson was left with little option other than issuing a second yellow card to each player. The implication of the referee's action means that both players will miss Madrid's meaningless last match against Auxerre, but will also benefit for the knockout stages because their cards are now wiped clean due to the sendings-off.

From the outside it would appear as if the players wanted to be sent off.

Football is a sport that has allowed cheating to thrive. It is a sport in real danger of losing its soul, and a sport that appears to have trampled all over the ethics of sportsmanship.

When managers and teams of the highest level flaunt the rules, another little piece of football's soul is chipped away. Referees are already manipulated by players who dive, and the world federations seem intent on making the men in the middle scapegoats by not moving with the times and introducing video evidence.

But when managers start to manipulate the ethos of the game, the devaluation of the sport moves towards another level altogether.

Last season Arsene Wenger waged war on UEFA when the governing body implied that Eduardo would receive a two-game ban after diving against Celtic in a Champions League playoff. The Gunners even went as far as to hire lawyers who vigorously defended the Brazilian-born striker. In the end UEFA was forced to back down, but the end result was a great manager and club defending cheating.

During the summer, at the highest level of all, the World Cup final was contested by Spain and Holland. Bert van Maarwijk, the Dutch manager, had seemingly instructed his team to kick seven shades of excrement out of the Spanish. Horrendous refereeing by Howard Webb contributed to the biggest game in football becoming a shameful affair that Spain deservedly and rightfully won.

Now we appear to have world football's most celebrated coach, in charge of one of world football's biggest clubs and institutions, apparently bending the rules to suit themselves.

There doesn't appear to be anything in the rules against players purposely getting sent off, but if it happens, then the game is reduced to becoming a shadow of itself.

UEFA is investigating the tactical yellow cards received by the Madrid pair.

Alonso, already on a yellow card, wasted an unbelievable amount of time while taking a free kick back in the right full position. Then Ramos strangely went back to take a goal kick (Casillas had taken them all night) and again wasted time on a large scale. Video here.

Great players like Alonso and Ramos, as well as great coaches like Mourinho, have an obligation to protect the game. They are its guardians. When the best of us reduce ourselves to cheating, then the moral fabric of the sport we love is damaged in a way that could take years to repair.

In resorting to such low tactics, the trust and faith in the game by supporters is abused. The spirit of the sport is crushed beneath an obvious disrespect for the game.

In an ideal world, UEFA would come down heavily on Madrid and Mourinho for dragging the game into disrepute, but it's highly unlikely whether that will happen.

There have been worse cases of cheating in the game in recent years—think Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland or Luis Suarez's goal line handball against Ghana - but both seem to pale in comparison to this flagrant abuse of football's ethics. Cheating is cheating, but there is a world of difference between a human reaction and premeditated corruption.

In every way, this incident, if true, damages the game we love. UEFA have to act now.