Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde took the meaning of ‘taking one for the team’ to a whole new level on Sunday night as he scythed down Alvaro Morata as the Atletico striker bore down on goal deep into extra-time during Sunday’s Spanish Super Cup final. It has both been applauded and condemned.
Taking a red for the most deliberate foul of all-time, his decision ultimately handed Los Blancos the trophy as they hung on to win on penalties.
"I know it's not good what I did, but I didn't have any other option,” he told the media after the match, now a winner with a conscious, at least.
Amazingly, while Atletico supporters will have been disgusted and beset by the whole injustice, manager Diego Simeone completely understood Valverde’s actions.
"I told him not to worry,” the Argentine admitted as he spoke to the press after the game. “I told him that anyone would've done the same in that situation. I would've done the same. The MVP of this game was Fede Valverde because he won the game for Real Madrid.” Incredible.
Everyone has an opinion on this one - was it ultimate heroism or morally bankrupt?
We spoke to two journalists on either side of the fence to get their verdicts...
HASAN KARIM, La Liga expert for ProstSoccer and contributor to LaLigaLowdown
What was your initial reaction when you saw the incident?
At first, I was quite concerned – Fede had quite easily been one of the better players on the field at that point in all aspects. Given that the team looked like they could be tiring, losing a player who provides so much industry was a scary prospect.
Do you applaud the sheer audacity of the tackle?
I’ve always viewed incidents like these in the way of ‘If it happens against you, you’ll hate it, if it’s for you, you’ll love it.’ Given the magnitude of the moment and the fact it was a derby, it is these balls of steel moments that are remembered just as fondly as winning the game.
You would expect Simeone to feel aggrieved, but he actually supported Valverde’s actions! What’s your take on that?
I think it shows that Simeone appreciated it just as much as most fans. At the end of the day, a manager would kill for a player who puts himself out there like that, a player who will do whatever for his team to win. Considering that Simeone himself prides his style on similar things, I can see why he admired that move from Fede.
The Atletico players will feel the injustice. Do you think that is just part and parcel of the game, such a tackle in that situation?
It definitely is part and parcel – as mentioned previously, if an Atleti player did the same, they’d laud it just as much. It is streetwise and it is something from the book of dark arts but in a final, anything can happen.
Do you think such an incident should get a larger ban than other red cards?
I think it is one of those that varies from case to case. In this instance, there was no malicious intent from Valverde, he committed a ‘tactical foul’ that he deemed necessary in the moment. Had that incident occurred in the Atleti half then that is malicious intent but he will serve an adequate ban for his actions regardless.
In terms of winning mentality, do you think some players prefer to be ‘cheating’ winners than morally right losers?
It is instilled in some players to win – no matter how ugly, they just desire the win. It is why players like Sergio Ramos and Luis Suarez have been so successful, they may not be appealing sometimes but they get the job done. It is what it is to them.
Do you admire players who take such drastic action?
I respect the guts and passion that it takes to perform such a big move. Fede had already put in a man of the match performance, instead of taking the plaudits for his individual performance – he took one for the team and did what was necessary to ensure they lifted the title. That kind of sacrifice is something you don’t often see anymore in the modern game.
LEE WINGATE, Co-host of The Other Bundesliga Podcast
What was your instant reaction to the incident?
I couldn't quite get my head around how many people were saying they loved it on social media.
My immediate reaction was frustration because it wasn't fair. His punishment was obviously in accordance with the rules of the game, but it's against the spirit of the game.
If we have to hack opponents down in the last minute to win, that doesn't feel like winning to me.
Surely the club would rather win fairly than win after such an action?
I think most clubs in Northern and Central Europe, where there is a really strong emphasis on morals, would not want to win like this - and I think most of their fans wouldn't like it either. In that respect, it's probably a cultural thing. Clubs in Southern Europe and South America probably wouldn't mind too much. Real Madrid certainly didn't seem to care anyway.
Do you think the red card and suspension punishment fits the crime?
No, I think the punishment doesn't fit the crime because it's inflexible and doesn't take circumstances into account.
It didn't take into account that there were only five minutes left. A red card in the first five mins of a game means the opposition have to play the whole game with 10 men and are likely to lose as a result. With five minutes to go, it's not likely to impact them as much - and in this case, it didn't.
Simeone didn’t seem too incensed but Morata and his team-mates must feel a great injustice?
The fact Simeone didn't seem to mind comes back to what I was saying about the mentality in South America. A win-at-all-costs mentality is part of the culture there. Players were brought up to believe that.
Look at Simeone himself getting [David] Beckham sent off in 1998, or Suárez's handball on the line in 2010 or Maradona's 'Hand of God' in 1986. So I'm not surprised that Simeone didn't react like perhaps a German or a Dutch coach might have.
Do you think morals go out the window in sport seeing as it’s ‘only a game’ or is being morally bankrupt in competition really bad?
I think being 'morally bankrupt' in sport is not okay because it's a global platform.
Millions and millions around the globe will have seen that and how many kids do you think will now be hacking opponents down in Sunday league games.
Sport has a global audience so it's one of the places where we need to adhere to a moral code.
Is there ANY instance you think such a tactic is acceptable? England in the World Cup final perhaps?
For me no. Winning a World Cup final with England like that would leave a sour taste. It wouldn't feel like we truly earned it. I'm sure that view wouldn't be shared by many but the spirit of the game takes priority for me.
What do you think of players who do this and the fans who back them to act like that?
I don't think any less of them because for the most part, it's cultural. However, I don't like to see it - especially in such examples where a trophy is at stake