x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Punish Pro League players for calculated cautions

UAE's football governing body will have taken a very dim view of three Al Ain players deliberately being carded so they miss a comparatively inconsequential President's Cup match.

Omar Abdulrahman received a yellow card in injury time of Al Ain's Pro League match against Al Nasr. Ravindranath K / The National
Omar Abdulrahman received a yellow card in injury time of Al Ain's Pro League match against Al Nasr. Ravindranath K / The National

As Al Ain's victory against Al Nasr ticked towards its conclusion on Sunday night, there seemed little unusual about a trio of bookings awarded to the visitors.

The champions had carefully nullified the threat of the side who last season proved their closest challengers, and, two goals to the good, appeared simply to be indulging in a spot of time wasting.

The Abdulrahmans – Omar and Khaled – each received a yellow card in injury time, as did Dawoud Sulaiman, the Al Ain goalkeeper. Nothing much to discuss, you would think, as it constitutes common practice at football grounds around the world.

Yet it has since been revealed Al Ain requested their players pick up a caution as, having collected two bookings in earlier matches, each were one card away from automatic suspension.

By finding themselves in the notebook of Mohammed Abdulkarim Al Zarouni, the referee at Al Maktoum Stadium that night, all three Emiratis will sit out tomorrow night's President's Cup match against Fujairah.

That is, miss what should be a relatively routine encounter with a Division One side, and be free for selection against Al Ahli, the third-place team in the UAE top flight, when the league resumes on January 21.

Etisalat Cup matches, of which Al Ain have three between their Fujairah and Ahli assignments, are not affected.

Reports surfaced this week that Mohammed Obaid Helal Al Dhaheri, the club's director, had ordered his players to be deliberately cautioned; Al Dhaheri was even quoted as defending the instruction as "normal".

What may be considered an exercise in football ordinary, the sport's governing bodies tend to take a rather dimmer view.

In 2010, Jose Mourinho and four of his players were reprimanded for "unsporting conduct" during Real Madrid's penultimate Champions League group game against Ajax. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were given second yellow cards for time wasting and promptly sent off, meaning both could not be included in the final match with Auxerre. The threat of suspension being transported to the knockout stages, therefore, was eradicated.

Uefa's Control and Disciplinary Body responded with fines for the players involved and for the club, while Mourinho initially received a two-game ban and a monetary penalty, too.

Players, though, have long dabbled in this dark art. In 2009, Lucas Neill, now with Al Wasl, admitted to purposely obtaining a yellow card while playing for Australia so as to get an immediate ban and be available for the start of the World Cup the following summer.

A year earlier, Cris and Juninho Pernambucano, the Lyon pair, were fined by Uefa for similar breaches of conduct. And in 2004, David Beckham conceded he had intentionally got cautioned in England's qualifier with Wales, prompting Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, to condemn it as "disappointing, because it is not the behaviour that befits an ambassador of football and fair play".

Disregard Blatter's subsequently questionable take on "fair play", and it is clear the authorities believe the players have not exactly acted in an altogether sporting manner.

However, the Pro League, unavailable for comment when approached on the issue, needs to decide if the deliberate attainment of a booking represents the breaking of any rule. The FA, under whose jurisdiction lays the President's Cup, should be heavily involved in any discussion.

Such practice, and it is not unique to Al Ain, jeopardises the integrity of the league, while it also somewhat devalues the President's Cup and, in this case, could be construed as belittling Fujairah.

The act, which appeared so trivial in those final stages at Nasr, should have grander consequences.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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