Cristiano Ronaldo had done wonders for his fairly ropey reputation in the last few months, leading up to his Ballon d'Or victory a few weeks ago. There was his constant stream of goals for Real Madrid, astonishing hat-trick to fire Portugal to the World Cup, and his tear-jerking good works for the less fortunate in society.
But it seems as if he was back to his more usual "bad boy" mode of operation this weekend as he received a straight red card for striking the face of Athletic Bilbao's Carlos Gurpegi.
Or did he? Replays of the incident, as seen on the animated GIFs on this page, suggest that Ronaldo might have been more than a little harshly treated. Not only had he been shoved in the chest by Gurpegi before the incident, it also seemed as if he did little more than try to brush his opponent away.
The referee's report noted that the dismissal was for scraping his nails down Gurpegi's face - fairly awful if true, of course... but the ridiculous way in which Gurpegi threw himself to the grass, while immediately looking in the referee's direction as he did so, does make it look very much as if the ref was conned into giving Ronaldo a red card via some shameless play-acting. Though as ever, as soon as a player raises a hand to an opponent's face he can expect nothing less than a dismissal.
As for Ronaldo's reaction to the eighth red card of his career? He simply laughed it off, clearly finding it utterly absurd. Early Doors can't help thinking that if he had in fact been guilty, he'd have protested his innocence vehemently rather than trotting off with a wry, philosophical smile on his face.
In the aftermath of the incident, most of the Spanish papers focused on how long the superstar striker would be banned for - with the consensus being that anything between one and 12 matches is possible, depending on how seriously the Spanish FA view the incident.
The more worrying thing for Ronaldo is that he's clearly not learning the lessons of his past. While some of his red cards have been for lunatic challenges such as this one, many others have been a result of reacting to provocation - exactly as he did this weekend.
While playing for Manchester United against Portsmouth in 2007, Ronaldo appeared to aim a headbutt at Richard Hughes - and at the time Alex Ferguson blamed Ronaldo for failing to control his temper.
"My take is that he was provoked and that he has fallen for it," said Fergie
"Cristiano has fallen into the trap, which has happened to him a few times. He has only himself to blame and it left us with 10 men...
"I don't know whether Cristiano lifted his hand but, if you do, there is no other course [for the referee]. You get provoked and you have to have a bit of calmness. You have to remind yourself that you are a better player than these players and that is why they are doing it."
The fact that, seven years later, Ronaldo is still struggling to keep his cool under such pressures makes you wonder if his famously petulant temper will ever be fully under control.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Carlos Gurpegi