When you’re part of a top European soccer club, it’s probably easy to forget that the rules, at least in theory, apply to you as well. Whether that’s Manchester City wiping their collective asses with the Financial Fair Play regulations, or Barcelona players gleefully indulging in tapping up (the equivalent to tampering), being part of the continental elite affords you many chances to be a raging asshole with few consequences. Enter Sergio Ramos.
The Real Madrid captain is known to live in the lawless margins of the rulebook, often wailing on opponents and walking away cardless, or even injuring them with at least some malice and no punishment. (Mo Salah sends his regards.) Though Ramos sometimes does something so stupid that the refs have to red card him—he owns the dubious La Liga record for sendings-off with 24—he often times gets away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Towards the end of Wednesday’s Ajax-Real Madrid Champions League round of 16 clash, Ramos decided to once again dive headfirst into the gray areas of soccer by deliberately hard-fouling striker Kasper Dolberg in order to pick up a yellow card. He even threw in some animated trash-talk after the foul, to ensure he’d go into the referee’s book.
(Hilariously, Ramos’s shithousery is so well known that Dolberg admitted after the match that he was told by former Real Madrid and current Ajax striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to run near the hotheaded defender in order to bait him into a card that would take him out of the second leg.)
Why would Ramos do this? Once you get three yellow cards in the Champions League, you are automatically suspended for a game. With the Ajax match-up seemingly under control (Madrid not only won 2-1 on Wednesday, but the game was on the road, so the team has two away goals to help it in tiebreakers), Ramos decided that grabbing a yellow card now and missing the return leg would be better than potentially missing out on one of the quarterfinal matches, should Madrid hang on to its lead. It would also “clear” his yellow cards, allowing him to pick up two more in the ensuing stages as needed without getting a suspension in a key match deeper in the tournament.
This is pretty shitty, something even UEFA acknowledges; the European soccer governing body has a provision in its rules (Article 15) that allow it to suspend a player an extra game if it finds that he deliberately got himself booked, as Ramos appears to have done. The rule reads that a player will receive a “suspension for two competition matches or a specified period for clearly receiving a yellow or red card on purpose.”
Of course, that’s a very subjective call to make, and there’s little chance that UEFA would hand down that punishment to the captain of the competition’s premier team when it would involve missing a key match. Ramos’s teammate Dani Carvajal did receive a two-match ban for this offense last season, but it happened in a group stage match after Madrid had already assured itself a spot in the knockout round.
Ramos should have probably been safe after his little trick on Wednesday...except he had to open his mouth after the game:
Looking at the result, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t force [the booking]. It is not to underestimate the opponent nor to think that the series is over, but in football you have to make tough decisions.
This self-own of a quote makes it pretty clear that Ramos not only tried to get himself booked, but that he thought, in the moment, that admitting to it won’t come back to hurt him. Of course, once he realized what he said, Ramos tweeted out that, actually, he would never do what he earlier admitted doing, no sir:
I want to make it clear that [missing the next game] hurts me more than anyone, and that I did not force the card, just as I didn’t force a card against Roma in my last Champions League match, and that I will root from the stands like a super-fan with the dream of making it to the quarterfinals.
It’s now up to UEFA to actually lay down its own law, despite it being targeted at one of the most popular players on one of the most popular clubs in the world. Should they decide that Ramos is flaunting his rule-breaking, the two-game suspension would see him miss the return leg against Ajax and then the first leg of the quarterfinals matchup, likely against a much better team than the scrappy Dutch boys. Or, UEFA could decide to believe Ramos’s PR-massaged tweet over his immediate reaction, and leave his suspension at only one game.
Ramos has put UEFA in a bind here, all because Real Madrid and its players, like many of the other tier 1 sides across the continent, believe they can get away with robbing the bank, knowing that UEFA will be driving the getaway car.