UEFA to investigate ‘deliberate’ second yellow cards for Real’s Alonso and Ramos
The legacy of Jose Mourinho is liable to be measured not by his trophies, or even his gloriously kooky choices of words, but by his stunts.
To fathom his character is to recall him flouting a touchline ban by leaping, in a flourish of pure Laurel and Hardy, into the Stamford Bridge laundry basket.
Likewise, to learn of his alleged orchestration of two red cards for his Real Madrid players on Tuesday night, thus shielding them from damaging suspensions later in the Champions League, is to wonder with suppressed guilt: "If only I could have done that..."
Already rewriting records for silverware, Mourinho is also brazenly pushing the envelope of what a manager can be expected to get away with. His antagonism of authority comes so naturally, the Portuguese regards any punishment with equal disdain.
Last Saturday night, he reacted to his latest ban to the stands by watching a 5-1 win over Atletico Bilbao from the Bernabeu's cheap seats.
For his reinstatement to the technical area at Ajax, Mourinho surpassed himself. If the version of events published in a Spanish newspaper yesterday is to be credited, he not only engineered the late dismissals of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos, his two most influential defensive players, but did so with the full connivance of his goalkeeper.
While all concerned have denied the claims, Uefa have promised to investigate. But any verdict might more usefully be couched in two words: So what?
Purists are appalled by Mourinho's reported antics, rendered all the more unpalatable by the fact that his team were 4-0 up at the time. It's just not cricket, old boy. Too right: where the spirit of the game is enshrined in cricket's laws, its supposed equivalent in football has been stripped of any salience.
When we seek any kind of 'spirit' across the divide, we are drawn to a culture defined by dives, cheats, charlatans, and dubious agents. Ethical objections to an example of creative man-management bear little scrutiny.
If there were any kind of team orders to ensure the 'Amsterdam Two' were sent off, Mourinho would have been acting no more ignobly than the average Formula One principal. At worst, he would have simply seen a loophole and exploited it.
The Uefa rule by which a player can miss a critical Champions League knockout match by collecting three yellow cards in the group stages -- but not if he happens to receive a red to boot -- is patently daft.
Real have correctly calculated, though, that this is no reason not to profit from it.
Mourinho said of Inter Milan's Champions League final against Bayern Munich last season that it was "the most important game in the world". His detractors found such grandiosity galling, but in light of the subsequent damp squib of a World Cup, he was perhaps proved right.
Europe's premier club competition offers wealth at which Croesus might blanch, and its decisive rounds are no time for a club of Real's ambition to find their pivotal players suspended.
It is not as if the subjects of the alleged scheme would have felt much compunction, either: Alonso was booked a remarkable 41 times during his Liverpool days, while Sergio Ramos holds the most red cards per season in Real's history.
But what ought to assure Mourinho's absolution is the comical innocuousness of the players' exits. Alonso merely stalled over a free-kick to earn his second yellow, while his partner in this alleged crime dithered absurdly in taking a goal kick.
TV footage of a bizarre night should have come with an end credit: 'No players were harmed during the making of this film'.
The point is crucial, as the actors in this strange saga are being spuriously bracketed with David Beckham, who committed a foul during England's European qualifier against Wales six years ago, knowing the rib he had just broken would rule him out of the next match anyway.
But that episode had a clear victim in Ben Thatcher. Real's rumoured machinations hurt no one. If they are ever proven, they only affirm Mourinho's magic. (© Daily Telegraph, London)