Supporters of FC Bayern Munich and Chelsea FC are still basking in the warm glow of their clubs' thrilling victories this week. But with the UEFA Champions League Final looming, both clubs are already making tactical preparations for the May 19 showdown. And one of the biggest factors in these preparations is the absence of several vital players due to suspension.Let's start at the beginning: I actually see why UEFA has this rule in place. I'm not saying I agree with it or I think it's good for the game. I'm just saying, it makes sense on some level. First of all, take aside the question of red cards. Red cards are only for offenses that are seriously dangerous or completely outside the realm of normal play: intentional sliding tackles from behind, brutally dangerous studs-up kicks that can hurt someone, or deliberate attempts to stop a clear goal (either by intentionally fouling a guy with a clear path to the goal, or a Suarez-style ball-grab). Again, set that aside: those lead to suspensions, and clearly should, at least when they're properly called.
Yellow cards, as we know, do not require a player to leave the match unless he has two. They also don't require a player to miss the next match, as a red card does. But UEFA's rule calls for a 1-game suspension for any player who accumulates too may yellows in total. The reason for this rule is that they don't want defensive minded managers sending players out with orders to foul and grab, and to consider yellow cards just a cost of doing business.
As an example - say you're a manager of a decent, "not-bad" club going up against an amazingly good club with 3 or 4 stellar offensive players (as often happens in the Round of 16, quarterfinals, or semifinals). It's very tempting to get your strongest, toughest defender and tell him to follow the other club's fast forwards wherever they go. If they other squad's star striker has a clean run through a pass, grab his shoulder or pull his shirt. If he's about to win a ball and have a chance to set up a big play, plow him under with a hard tackle. If he's going up for a header, hip-check him and throw him off his angle. Nothing quite red-card serious, but just a general "go bump and grab him until he shies away from the ball."
Now, you're certainly going to get called for fouls. You will probably eventually get hit with a yellow. But as soon as that happens, your manager can sub you and put in a new defender. He can even do that 2 or 3 times a match, and basically stick with the "kick and foul" strategy week after week. So, in a way, UEFA's policy makes sense: they want to make sure that a player who does enough hacking and grabbing will face consequences, even if he never does anything so awful as to deserve a red. But, on the other side of that equation, you have to consider the cost. And the cost is becoming enormous.
Right now, seven players are set to miss the Final through suspensions: Gustavo, Alaba and Badstuber for Bayern, and Ramires, Terry, Meireles and Ivanovic for Chelsea. OK, take Terry out of it, because he did get a red (Sanchez REALLY sold that "hit" from behind, but ... whatever. Terry has to know the dangers of even taking that risk). But for the other 6 players, I don't see any evidence that they earned their accumulated totals of yellows through a deliberate policy of grabbing, hacking, or chopping down their opponents every time they get a chance. Alaba caught his final yellow when he stuck his hand out to break his fall, and the ball happened to ricochet off of him. Badstuber, by my recollection, hasn't committed a brutally hard foul in the entire tournament. All of his yellows have come from plays where he slightly missed the ball or mistimed his tackle, not from deliberately trying to "take out" an opponent. And Ramires is one of the least dirty players you'll see: if anything, he's usually the victim of the "hack and grab" strategy, not the perpetrator. And yet fans who bought a ticket to the Final are going to miss seeing all of these guys, because of the UEFA rule.
So ... I guess I don't know what the solution is. They could do away with the accumulated-yellow rule entirely. But, as described above, the reason behind it is valid: to prevent defenders from leaning on a "hard foul at every turn" tactic that can hurt the game. They could reset the cards somewhat earlier in the tournament. But you'd still have the same problem, just at a different stage: fans who bought a ticket for (say) the semi-final would miss out on seeing their favorite star play if he was suspended for too many yellow. After all, it's not just the Final where fans pay good money to see the game's best. They could set up some tribunal for determining when a player with multiple yellow truly "deserves" a suspension or not. But, of course, that just opens up the specter of favoritism and corruption.
Anyone have any ideas? Is this something that everyone thinks UEFA should just do away with entirely? Do we at least sort-of see why the rule is in place? I'm interested to hear what anyone thinks - unlike some issues, I actually can't 100% blame UEFA for this. It's understandable to want to have such a rule in place. But it's getting to point where it's really going to hurt the qualify of the game when the final rolls around. If you have any thoughts, leave them in the poll.
Stuttgart preview coming tomorrow, then back with some more discussion: Dante joining Bayern, looking ahead to the summer signing period, and maybe a look at who might fill in these gaping suspension holes. As always, leave a comment if you're in the mood, but try to remain calm and civil - we're all friends here. Thanks for reading.