The Champions League final is year on year one of the most watched sporting events on the planet. Millions tune in worldwide to watch two of Europe’s top teams fight it out to be named the best on the continent. Saturday night’s final between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid resulted in Zinedine Zidane’s side winning a record 11th title after a tense penalty shoot out. However the spectacle was marred somewhat by some shocking behaviour by Real defender Pepe.
In recent years, Pepe has built up a reputation as an aggressive, passionate centre back. Much of this came from an incident in 2009 when he received a 10-game ban for appearing to kick out and then strike two Getafe players.
When the Portuguese international did receive a yellow card in extra time of the final, it was only his seventh of the season. The stats may suggest that he has finally begun to clear up his act, but his behaviour on the pitch shows that he may have simply found a way of hiding his misdemeanours.
Twice in Saturday’s final he fell to the floor clutching his face in apparent agony, when in reality there had been minimal contact. This was away from the usual gamesmanship we usually see in these big games. This was just blatant cheating.
For such a high profile game that was watched by over 300 million people worldwide, this was just a disgraceful act. For Pepe, a man who plays for a team who on paper had a clear advantage over Atletico in terms of quality, these were just shameful acts of cowardliness.
This also raises the bigger issue of how to deal with players who consistently exaggerate any contact made on them by opponents. It was clear that referee Mark Clattenburg was not fooled, and instead almost embarrassed by Pepe’s actions.
Simply not rewarding these players is not enough to put them off what are blatant acts of cheating, so it could be time to give referees permission to either send them off, or allow the governing body to take retrospective action.