Federico Valverde’s game-saving red card in the Spanish Supercup final was a perfectly polarizing moment of the game’s dark arts.
With the score locked at 0-0 in the second half of extra time in the Spanish Supercup, Atletico Madrid successfully defended a free-kick for which Real Madrid had sent all but one of their outfield players ahead of the ball.
Raphael Varane almost got something on a rebound which found its way to the far post, but Atletico managed to clear, then clear, then clear, then they were through on goal.
Alvaro Morata was in with only the goalkeeper to beat but in one last desperate act, Federico Valverde opened up a philosophical debate.
In clearing out Morata, first with his left foot and then with his right foot for good measure — all of this nowhere near the ball and with no intention of taking it — Valverde gave the referee no choice but to send him off and a melee ensued.
He sparked some kind of soccer equivalent of the Rorschach test, as everyone will have a view on such an isolated event which is then part of a bigger picture.
Though he was on the wrong end of the result of this ‘tackle’, and indeed the result, as Real Madrid went on to win on penalties, everyone knew on which side of the fence Diego Simeone would fall, but would he be upfront about it?
As Valverde walked from the pitch he received support from his own manager Zinedine Zidane, but also a knowing tap on the back of the head from Simeone in recognition of this potential game-saving act.
“I think the award for the best player makes perfect sense because Valverde won the game with that action,” said the Atleti boss.
“It was the most important play of the game. If play continued, it would possibly have been a goal.
“I said to him ‘don’t worry, anyone would’ve done the same in your place’. He did what he had to do. We will see how many days [suspension] they give him.”
Another just-as-predictable supporter of this type of act was Real Madrid center-back Sergio Ramos, whose only gripe might have been the fact he wasn’t able to play the part of the villain himself.
“I think any player in our squad would have done it in that situation,” said the Real captain. “It was a key move that had to be stopped.”
What was the right thing to do? It was a selfish act for his team, but an unselfish one for Valverde personally in that he sacrificed any further participation in the game.
Wrong in the laws of the game, right in the pursuit of a desirable end result. Both evil and good.
This act, despite it’s uncouth, slightly dangerous and cynical nature, seems to have been roundly praised, even beyond the usual purveyors of this type of play.
But many similar acts have been criticized across the board, the most prominent of which might be Luis Suarez’s hand-ball on the line in the quarterfinal of the 2010 World Cup, which prevented Ghana reaching the semi-finals.
Some call for changes in the laws, but what more can be done? Awarding a goal to the team on the receiving end of these acts could be even more against the spirit of the game than the act itself.
The spirit of the game at a competitive (not just at a professional) level is as all about working within the laws to win a game of association football.
If scything down an opposition player in full flight or handling the ball on the line needs to be done, then a player accepts the consequences, as does the team on the receiving end.