This really should have been straightforward: a player loses his temper, shoves the referee and gets a ban of somewhere between four and twelve matches – no argument required.
But the player was Cristiano Ronaldo and the match was El Clasico and it was anything but straightforward.
Anything involving these clubs quickly becomes rancorous so let’s promptly qualify that Cristiano is fantastic and personally, I would have preferred to see him playing at the start of the league season.
However, once the Portuguese star gave a double-handed shove to referee Ricardo de Burgos he simply had to be punished.
The arguments against the ban have fallen into three rough categories:
Cristiano had been the subject of a miscarriage of justice– the second yellow card was for diving and the player did not dive. This defence misses the point. Referees should not be subject to threat, intimidation or physical intervention regardless of whether their decisions are good or bad. After all, the only time players confront a match official is when he has just given a decision they disagree with – what other reason would there be?
Lionel Messi grabbed the referee in a Clasico a few years ago and was not banned –the Argentine should have been banned and it was the decision not to suspend Messi that was wrong, not this one. The referee back then didn’t include it in his match report so it went no further. That was a mistake. There have been others – perhaps the most bizarre was in 2015 when Arda Turan flung his boot at an assistant referee and was shown only a yellow card.
The referees in Spain are really bad - you won’t find many people disagreeing. However, this is deflection rather than mitigation. I appreciate Madrid fans might have had Gerard Pique’s accusations of institutional bias ringing in their ears as they witnessed Luis Suarez cynically win a penalty and Ronaldo get sent off in the same game. They claim bias, Barca fans claim bias - and every other fan gives a hollow laugh.
Of course it is difficult to respect someone who seems to get almost everything wrong which at times seems like the case with Spanish referees. So if you really feel Spanish football is blighted by biased refereeing then how about calling for an investigation to be carried out by an independent organisation? The police, if necessary?
For years there were allegations of a conspiracy in Italian football, the police starting digging and the bodies soon turned up. I would rather that happened than an endless stream of arguments and insinuations be allowed the poison the game.
The succession of poor decisions could be more cock-up than conspiracy and we could wait for video referees to ride to the rescue. Unfortunately, FIFA’s Video Assistant Referee system was such a dog’s breakfast that I fear we will end up arguing as much as ever, and games will last for two hours. Hands up anyone who thinks the Spanish authorities will manage it better than FIFA?
The rivalry between Spain’s two giants is exciting and energising but it is not bigger than the game itself. Already too many grassroots games go without a referee and if the world’s best players go unpunished for physically confronting match officials it really does undermine the whole sport.
We must not turn a blind eye just because we love the player or club in question or because we recall past injustices. If you ever find yourself falsely accused of something I would suggest you argue your case, maybe get a lawyer – just don’t go pushing the police around.