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Let’s face it: Zlatan Ibrahimovic shouldn’t have been red carded

Feb 12, 2013, 11:15 PM EDT

As I watched the replay of Tuesday’s Valencia-Paris Saint-Germain match (because I hit Celtic-Juve first), I was surprised to hear relatively little debate about Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s red card. The PSG star saw straight red and earned the corresponding suspension after this stoppage time challenge:

The two arguments on this:

Ibrahimovic went over the top of the ball, making this a reckless, unnecessary challenge. He made full contact in a way that could have hurt Andres Guardado, therefore making it dangerous. While that may not be a red card every time, referee Paolo Tagliabento was within his rights to show Ibra red.

If that argument sounds dispassionate, it’s because I’m not buying it. This is just Ibrahimovic stepping on somebody’s foot, and while it’s conceivable the game could evolve to the point where this type of cynical foul would be an automatic red, dismissing Ibrahimovic is disproportionate. We just don’t see red cards for that type of foul. There’s no reason for Ibrahimovic, in the moments leading into that action, to believe he’d see red for what he’d decided to do. For Tagliabento to dismiss him for it is unjust.

Within the wiggle room referees get to interpret dangerous plays, Tagliabento’s entitled to his interpretation. It’s not outright wrong, and it’s probably not worth making a big deal about. Even if he is wrong, Tagliabento is entitled to occasional mistakes. Unless this is type of decision is a pattern from the Italian official, it’s better to just chalk it up to the game’s natural variance. Just bad “luck” for Ibra.

Though you could argue Ibrahimovic’s play was dangerous because it could have broken some toes, that interpretation of danger (potential harm) is problematic. There are a number of more common, more dangerous plays that are allowed to transpire through the course of a game – plays that would never draw a red card. Almost any time a player goes to ground, he’s exposing his opponent to more injury than Guardado was exposed to. Then a player is second in the air to contest a header, he’s risks concussions for both himself and this adversary. Even when a goalkeeper goes to punch a ball, he often puts other players at risk with the follow through or his jump.

In each of those situations, players commit to “dangerous” actions because they know they’re allowed to. Game in, game out they play by a set of standards enforced by the officiating community, standards to which they’ve adapted their game. They know what will and won’t bring red cards, and they act accordingly.

Going into today’s match, the game’s conventions allowed for what Ibrahimovic did. At least, they didn’t call for Ibrahimovic to be dismissed for that challenge. At some point before Tagliabento’s whistle, that changed. And now Ibrahimovic will miss the return leg.

  1. crnelson10 - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    I generally agree with you Richard, and I also tend to think refs should give players the benefit of the doubt in a lot of these red card situations. However, watching in that .gif you posted above, notice how there is a quick additional lunge right before Ibra makes contact with Guardado. He hangs his foot up just a little bit longer than natural and moves in a little bit, which to me indicates clear intent to rake the cleats down Guardados shin. If the angle of Guardado’s approach is just a hair different, that’s a leg breaker, especially considering the size differences between the two.

  2. ravegreenstreet - Feb 13, 2013 at 2:09 AM

    If this was the second leg of a series PSG was losing, then I’d say that Ibra was being an idiot. But even that d-bag isn’t stupid enough to purposefully go into a challenge that he knows could get him carded… when they’re WINNING the AWAY leg.

  3. alabamajamma - Feb 13, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    As long as the refs don’t start ‘reviewing the plays’, I’ll live with whatever calls they make.

  4. unclemosesgreen - Feb 13, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    I have to disagree as well, Ibra made a bad tackle on the first guy, and deliberately stepped over the ball to rake down the shin of the second guy. The first foul was yellow-worthy all by itself, and the second challenge was worthy of a straight red for me.

    Also – the referee’s assistant is the one that called the referee’s attention to it, and he had a perfect view, unobstructed, only yards away.

    The Zlatan continues to be a lunatic, because that’s all The Zlatan knows.

    • nopuntintended - Feb 13, 2013 at 2:18 PM

      I’m with you 100% Uncle — that first tackle wasn’t clean either and the second one he did lunge out it seems and go directly over the top of the ball, cleats and heels into the shin. It was unnecessary and avoidable, and that type of play is dangerous, despite the outcome in this particular situation. That’s good for a red in my books, too.

      • keytoarson - Feb 15, 2013 at 11:33 AM

        I literally just watched that 30 times. First of all I don’t even see he touched the first guy. Looks like a total and blatant flop. Second guy he may have grazed the top of his boot with his heel studs, but that’s even debatable. If anything he steps on his right boot. The manner in which Ibra went in for the tackle is deserved of a foul and a yellow. In no way is that a red.

        lol @ 0:06 seconds looking at the ref for a red. Total joke.

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