Dani Carvajal probably thought he was being clever when he decided to force a yellow card against Apoel in Real Madrid’s penultimate Champions League group-stage match last November. History should have warned him otherwise.
Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos pulled off the same trick in the 2010-11 season, getting themselves sent off against Ajax under the instructions of Jose Mourinho. UEFA were unimpressed and although the players escaped with fines and duly played in the last-16 first leg in Lyon after sitting out a meaningless match against Auxerre, Mourinho received a ban for improper conduct.
UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body took a similarly dim view of Carvajal’s artifice and handed the Spain international a two-game ban last December after ruling that he had thumbed his nose at the regulations, specifically Article 15.1.c, which prescribes “suspension for two competition matches or a specified period for clearly receiving a yellow or red card on purpose.” On Tuesday, UEFA’s Appeals Body upheld that decision.
Carvajal sat out the final group-stage match against Borussia Dortmund after picking up his fifth caution and Real Madrid evidently felt that an appeal would be sufficient to smooth the right-back’s path to eligibility for the first leg of the season-defining clash against Paris Saint-Germain. That UEFA resisted Real’s advances is to be applauded, but Zinedine Zidane can be forgiven for not joining in.
The Frenchman started working with Mourinho in an advisory capacity in November 2010 and was on hand to witness the Alonso-Ramos incident. He will not have instructed any of his players to force the issue in Cyprus and therefore has every right to be livid with Carvajal now. Zidane has been quite candid about the importance of the PSG game to his continued employment at the Bernabeu and although he could not have foreseen how the season would pan out, Carvajal should have known better.
The player may argue that he was conniving in the interests of the team but his actions have now had entirely the opposite effect.
Zinedine has Nacho to cover against the Ligue 1 giants, for which the Real boss will be extremely grateful. He already has the versatile backup man to thank in part for the club’s 2015-16 Champions League success. In the group stage of that season’s competition, Marcelo lasted half an hour in the Parc des Princes and Rafa Benitez threw Nacho in at left-back. He scored the only goal of the game as Real beat PSG and claimed top spot in Group A, paving the way for Zidane’s accommodating route to the final. On such small details can a reputation be forged.
It can also be shattered just as swiftly, and Zidane is already walking on cracking glass after another La Liga setback last weekend at the Ciutat de Valencia and Copa defeat at the hands of Leganes. The Champions League is the final redoubt for Real to rescue 2017-18.
The Frenchman will have no qualms about deploying Nacho on the right, even if he has played there only four times this season. The alternatives are enough to give Madridismo two weeks’ worth of sleepless nights: Achraf Hakimi remains an interesting prospect but the 19-year-old is hardly equipped to go up against Neymar.
The additional problem Zidane faces is that Nacho may yet be required elsewhere. Ramos has just returned from injury and Raphael Varane is rarely more than an outstretched leg away from another date with the treatment table. Jesus Vallejo remains sidelined with a hamstring problem, reducing Zidane’s options further still.
Before PSG, Real have a league game against Real Sociedad to navigate. That would not be too much of an issue were it not for Madrid’s precarious position in La Liga. Zidane cannot afford to take too many liberties with qualification for next season’s Champions League via the domestic route but he would surely be delighted to play his backups on Saturday to ensure Ramos and Varane remain unscathed.
Sociedad may be at the wrong end of the Liga table for their purposes but it is fortunate for Madrid that the Basques are 19th in terms of fouls committed this season. Nonetheless, the visitors will not be in the mood for awarding favours on Saturday.
Carvajal’s importance to Real Madrid cannot be overstated. His is one of the first names on the team sheet and he has proved to be a reliable and incisive full-back over the past few seasons. His absence next Wednesday will be keenly felt. If the game goes against the home side, he may well reflect on his rash decision in Cyprus and hope that it is not too late to make amends in the Parc des Princes in a month’s time.
Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.