Dembélé’s red card may have been harsh, but it was utterly avoidable.

Moussa Dembélé’s red card has lead to Fulham suffering a 1-0 defeat in the Europa League at the hands of Wisla Krakow. Channel Five’s Stan Collymore was quick to heap scorn on the antics of Gervasio Núñez, the play-acting Argentine who feigned a facial insult, and this sentiment has been repeated in various football articles and message forums across the net. However, sweeping aside pro-Premiership bias and In-ger-lund sentiments for one second, there is more to this incident than many are willing to admit. If Núñez scored an abstract goal for Krakow with his devious histrionics, then Dembélé must take credit for the assist.

Dembele red card Wisla Krakow 1-0 Fulham
Red Mist = Red Card. (Photo: Reuters)

Yes, Núñez was deceitful in his collapse. Yes, clutching his face led the referee to believe he had been struck above the neck. But yes, these sorts of deceptions occur all the time in football. Players feign cramping to break up the passage of play and run the clock down. Players routinely claim for throw-ins or corners when they know that the truthful result was 100% to the contrary. This is to willingly claim an absolute lie as truth. So how does this sending off appear under critical scrutiny?
Well, examining the major news sources, I’ve yet to see anyone criticise the referee for this apparently “ludicrous” sending-off. The ire has been reserved solely for Núñez, but people are missing a major point of footballing etiquette:

Never raise your hands to an opponent“.

Elegant in its simplicity, this guideline has been parroted for some twenty years at least. As a keen fan of the game, Thierry Ennui is aware of it. You, my esteemed reader, are probably aware of it (unless you were misdirected here from the Gothic poetry site Teary Ennui, in which case you’re doing well to have read this far). We can therefore bet vital parts of our respective anatomies that the 24-year-old professional footballer Dembélé would be aware of it too.
Fact: one player raised their hands to another. If Dembélé’s hands stay down, there is no incident. Núñez has no reason to clutch his face, the referee has no reason to show a red card. Indeed, at no point do the rules of the game specifically state that striking above the neck is the sole act that merits a straight red. In fact, the crime for which Dembélé was dismissed would fall under the catch-all term of “violent conduct”, the same infringement that saw Wayne Rooney ordered off against Macedonia for a kick, to largely universal agreement. This may be a harsh judgement, but no hands, no card.
Dembélé handed Núñez the opportunity on a plate: the referee was some distance away, on the other side of the Wisla player, his line-of-sight partially blocked by the victim. The simple act of raising hands to Nunes’ shoulder would appear like a punch in the face from afar, an action that is universally understood to warrant dismissal and a multiple-match ban. And for what? Núñez had clipped Dembélé’s heel in a prior challenge. In many years as a school footballer, Thierry Ennui picked up many an accidental knock or late challenge, and never once kicked out or pushed a player in retaliation. Let the referee deal with it, or not; maybe give that player some extra juice in the next challenge, see how he likes that; but never retaliate. If you do, you run the risk of seeing red.
We can all appreciate that a player’s blood will be up during a match, but that has never prevented Wayne Rooney or David Beckham from being lambasted in the media for retaliation-based dismissals. It is a stupid act that can easily be controlled. Never raise your hand to an opponent. The best revenge is to let your full-strength team issue metaphorical shoves and slaps with their football.