“Absurd,” “wrong” and “scandalous” screamed the Italian sports newspapers in their analysis of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sending off against Valencia.
Their anger – and much of social media’s – was directed at German referee Felix Brych, who reduced the Juventus forward to floods of tears after giving him his marching orders just 30 minutes into his Champions League debut for his new club following an altercation with defender Jeison Murillo.
Ronaldo’s sister, Katia Aveiro, was also in agreement, firing off on Instagram: “Football’s shame … justice will be served.
“They want to destroy my brother but God never rests. Shameful.”
After the game Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri insisted Ronaldo wouldn’t have been dismissed if VAR had been in use – UEFA has yet to approve the system’s deployment for Europe’s top club competition.
“I can only say that VAR would have helped the referee make the right decision,” Allegri told reporters.
Juve teammate Emre Can clumsily added: “That’s supposed to be a red? We’re not women, we’re playing football.”
A clear open and shut case then, it would appear? Especially if you saw some of the early video replays from distance which appeared to show the Portuguese forward do little more than run his hand across Murillo’s head after the defender tumbled to the ground.
But as closer video evidence emerged, it became clear that Ronaldo attempts to grab the Valencia man by his hair and rakes his fingers sharply back across his scalp.
It may not have caused Murillo any serious harm or danger – but in what world is raking someone’s head acceptable behavior and something which deserves to go unpunished?
“You can’t do that,” said former Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves, as he analyzed the game for BT Sport – one of the few commentators to speak in defense of the red card.
The laws of the game state “a player who, when not challenging for the ball, deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible.”
The crux of the argument for and against the sending off ultimately comes down to whether you think the force used on the “scalp rake” was negligible.
If you think it was, then ask yourself: would you like your kids to be subjected to such treatment on their amateur fields?
Because that ultimately is the trickle-down effect these players’ actions have across the world.
It’s not simply a question of whether it hurt or endangered Murillo, but of what image football aims to project across the world.
Does Europe’s governing body UEFA, which runs the Champions League, want that type of behaviour seen, deemed acceptable and imitated or do they want punishment dished out to deter copycats and repeat offending?
It was an act of petulance and aggression and one which rightly brought about a red card for a player who has shown these traits on more than one occasion throughout his career, so save the tears and tantrums, Cristiano.
On the surface it seemed to be a decision without much precedent – seeing as there’s very little head raking or hair pulling that goes on in football – and that no doubt played a part in the frustrations of Ronaldo and his fans.
But in reality, governing bodies have long clamped down on any sort of aggressive act towards an opponent’s head.
The Ronaldo “scalp rake” is just a catty version of the “ram rut” that players occasionally do when they come head-to-head and one throws a bit too much weight behind it.
The intention, not the impact, results in the extreme consequence. Now when a player is sent off for the slightest “butt,” the reaction is one of reluctant acceptance from fans that their man has been stupid enough to do something so petty that risks so much.
There’s no place for it in football and football is no poorer without it.
He’ll still, in all likelihood, be available for the glamor return to former club Manchester United on October 23 as well as their visit to Italy on November 7, as UEFA would have to deem his act an exceptionally serious offense to increase his automatic one-match ban to three – and it was certainly not that.
But make no mistake, there was nothing “shameful,” “scandalous” or “wrong” about the immediate punishment Ronaldo had to choke back, and he’d do well to learn from this episode to correct his behavior rather than bemoan a perceived injustice.