Footballs loose and ever-shifting moral code has been thrown under the spotlight by Real Madrids Champions League triumph over Liverpool, the injury to Mohamed Salah that changed the momentum of Saturdays final, and the foul by Sergio Ramos that ended the Egyptians participation – and possibly his hopes of playing at the World Cup next month.
To some, Real and Spain defender Ramoss act of dragging Salah to the ground, contributing to Liverpools most potent attacking threat suffering a shoulder injury that forced him from the pitch in tears, was an act of skullduggery, sufficiently well disguised to escape serious punishment, and the product of a cynical approach to the game.
For others, it was further evidence of Ramoss qualities. The 32-year-old is a serial winner – this was a fourth Champions League crown to sit alongside four La Liga titles, a World Cup and two European Championships – and that is testament to his ability to find an edge, by fair means or foul. The end justifies the means. Youd love him if he was on your team, or so it goes.
It might be effective and his determination to win is indeed admirable but, for those defending Ramos, this seems like a good time to reflect on whether our willingness to applaud the dark arts of football may have gone too far.
Is an honest approach now to be deemed hopelessly naive when there are other, more modern ways to indicate virtue – which handily dont affect competitiveness – such as not celebrating against a former team?
Of course, Ramos could not have known that dragging Salah down would lead to that severity of injury, and there is no suggestion that he set out to hurt him. But at the very least a forceful challenge was sure to unsettle the Liverpool man.
The essence of such an act is: its worth a try because it might hurt, upset or put off an opponent. A similar logic was at play when Luis Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini at the 2014 World Cup, incurring a four-month ban.
Ramos dragged Mohamed Salah to the ground, injuring the Liverpool player (Source: Getty)
Moral confusion isnt just a foreign affliction, though. It abounds in England, where debate continues to rage over diving, not least by a number of leading players for the national team.
If a forward is touched by a defender are they entitled to fall, even if the contact did not cause it? Is the act of tricking a player into making the challenge, thus facilitating the dive, a skill to be prized in itself? Some, such as Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, have suggested as much.
We have also become wearily accustomed to the praising of tactical fouls – the type of deliberate bringing down of an opponent designed to halt an attack, usually at the expense of a yellow card.
Fail to cheat in this way and a culpable player faces the likelihood of being castigated by whichever Neville brother happens to be on co-commentary duty.
Football is a contact sport and players dont have to be saints, but – without wishing to encourage the petition to ban Ramos that attracted half a million signatories – lets not go too far the other way and elevate these tactics to a higher plane.
Its worth asking ourselves what type of football it is that we want.