The Copa del Rey Round of 32 began Wednesday afternoon in Spain. Favorites Real Madrid were hosting a winnable game against Cádiz. The final score line: a measly 3-1 victory. There was only one slight problem: it didn’t count.
There were no fights or catastrophic events at the match. But instead, the multi-billion dollar organization that is Real Madrid fielded an ineligible player. And to make matter worse, that player scored the game’s opening goal in just the third minute.
Now before we go any further with this, not only should you take some time to laugh, but let’s just straighten a few things out. The player was Denis Cheryshev. His suspension was carried over from last season’s Copa del Rey semifinals, when Cheryshev picked up his third yellow card of the tournament, prompting a mandatory one-game ban.
But just one question here: how could a club worth billions not know which of their players were ineligible?
Although Cheryshev was not with Real Madrid during the suspension — he was playing on loan at Villareal — that doesn’t discount the ban. And at halftime, when the club realized the ban, it substituted Cheryshev in order to show what manager Rafa Benitez described as “a sign of good faith.”
Yes, that is really good faith there, considering Benitez has been kicked out of this tournament before. Back in 2001, while managing Valencia, Benitez fielded a roster with too many non-EU players.
This is also the second straight year a club has been removed from the tournament. Osasuna was kicked out of Copa del Rey last season, also for fielding an ineligible player.
Now, Real Madrid has already stated that they will appeal this suspension, realizing it will be to no avail. But seriously, how do you not know what players are ineligible?
Well, club president Florentino Pérez found an excuse. Pérez fantastically claimed that it was not his club’s fault because no one had told them. Ok, so if there was ever a doubt, which there obviously seemed to be, then Madrid should have inquired, or just checked Twitter, whatever is easier.
But there is still no denying this wrongdoing. Real Madrid looks like the kid that got caught stealing from the cookie jar, and they know it, too.
However, Pérez continued to make a fool of himself for the third time this season. He unbelievably stated that because the club didn’t know about the sanctions on Cheryshev, they are effectively invalid.
That’s like someone saying, “Oh, I didn’t know murder was a crime, so I shouldn’t be punished.” How much more foolish is Pérez going to make this club look?
Pérez said Real Madrid “rigorously” checked the listings and found nothing. However, Villareal, Cheryshev’s loan club, received an email in July stating that Cheryshev and Villareal player Tomás Pina would be suspended.
Villareal contradicted this claim before rescinding their contradiction. There was an email sent to Villareal about Cheryshev, but it was disregarded by the club as they chose to focus more on their player, Pina.
But despite the poor communication, it’s still a wonder how Real Madrid still didn’t know.
In checking BBC’s match report from the second leg of the semifinal match against Barcelona last season, there was no mention of Cheryshev’s suspension. However, it did show that he was booked.
Here’s where the “take matters into your own hands” thing kicks into gear. If I were Real Madrid, I would scour everywhere to check and see if all of my players were eligible to play. I would call the league and the Federation, check Twitter and look at past box scores. If I found anything doubtful, I wouldn’t chance it.
The problem here is simple. Real Madrid thinks it’s above the sport itself. The winning culture has translated into arrogance. Should there have been better communication? Yes. But that doesn’t mean playing the ignorance card will work.
At the very least, they could have reassured everyone’s eligibility. But instead, they realized the mistake 45 minutes too late. Someone told Real Madrid, not at halftime, but moments after the whistle blew to start the second half that Cheryshev was ineligible.
If it was this easy to recognize the mistake, why couldn’t Real Madrid have found out earlier?
So the suspension of Real Madrid from the competition is justice served. By subbing out Cheryshev awkwardly at the start of the second half, Real Madrid made an even bigger fool of itself.