From Ronaldo to Ramos and beyond, red card frenzy has gripped La Liga
You may have noticed a tremendous outbreak of indefensible stupidity in Spanish football over the last few days, which centres upon two intertwining trends: Refereeing mistakes and wholly unnecessary red cards.
There have been stories aplenty about clubs appealing officials' decisions and an outright lack of condemnation from the coaches toward the players who let them down and the hard fact is that it is time to put the microscope on the footballers in question, not the fallible referees.
It all began in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup, when Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea sent off Cristiano Ronaldo, only for Real Madrid's superstar to push the referee in a fit of pique and anger.
It continued last weekend as Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann insulted Juan Martinez Munuera, using a foul term to accuse him of not being brave enough to award a penalty in Girona. The French forward was shown a second yellow card for his dissent.
Next was Ever Banega, as bright as Albert Einstein with the ball at his feet but also a man who once forgot to put the brake on his own car when filling up with petrol, which led to him running himself over and fracturing his shin bone and tibia.
A simple booking from referee Alejandro Hernandez Hernandez led to a foul expression of abuse from the Argentinean midfielder for the official; the second booking was issued within approximately 15 seconds of the first.
Then there was the daddy of them all, starring Sergio "Red Card" Ramos.
Real Madrid's captain is one of my favourite players and, in person, one of the most likeable guys in the Spanish game, but he has a temperament that goes from 0-60 faster than a Formula One engine.
Against Deportivo, he'd been chippy all night and had already escaped a rock solid red card for pushing Fabian Schar in the face when, with his side leading 3-0 and just seconds to go, he led with his elbow while jumping with Borja Valle and received a justified second booking.
Ronaldo started the pattern of dissension toward referees to conclude a remarkable cameo in that clash with Barcelona. Moments earlier at the Camp Nou, he had scored a sublime goal, after which he stripped off his shirt and held it, Lionel Messi-style, up to the crowd.
Perhaps he had it in mind to show off his startling physique or maybe it was simply a cheeky "revenge" for Messi holding his shirt up to the Bernabeu last season after scoring a late winner, who knows?
Certainly it was an indulgence and there is nothing wrong with that; the true greats in sport need to be permitted their eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, which add to the degree of separation between them and the rest of the madding crowd.
But there is risk associated with such peccadillos: Messi got away with displaying the name on the back of his Barca shirt to the night air, Ronaldo did not.
That he was cautioned for diving shortly thereafter, having gone down after a challenge by Samuel Umtiti, was unfair and unfortunate, but it was the risk CR7 ran as soon as he thought: "That goal I've just scored is worth celebrating with my shirt off!"
There were 10 minutes left in the game and therefore, by contrast to Messi's similar act that followed effectively the last kick of the game, more than long enough to cross the referee's path once again. To compound the issue, one of the most analytical, calculating, focused men in the game then let his emotions run free and he pushed De Burgos Bengoetxea.
It was a nonsensical action and the five-game ban -- one for the red card and four for the push -- he received interferes with Ronaldo's already truncated preseason and start to the campaign.
The only match he'll be able to play for Madrid until the Champions League starts in mid-September is a friendly and, more, his lack of match sharpness could affect Portugal's push for World Cup qualification; the European champions are currently only in a playoff place and, after hosting Faroe Islands on Aug. 31, visit Hungary four days later.
De Burgos Bengoetxea was wrong to show a second yellow card. But he was wrong in tough circumstances -- it was a 60/40 call -- and his error is dwarfed by that of Ronaldo.
Madrid unsuccessfully appealed the red card twice. Ronaldo, meanwhile, called it a "persecution." Plain nonsense: Both the dismissal and the push were completely within his control, so full responsibility rests with him.
In Griezmann's case, the penalty committed upon him is still clearer but, as Girona goalkeeper Iraizoz slides out, there is an element of the French striker trying to avoid a firmer contact. That's fair enough but it tempts Martinez Munuera to think -- wrongly -- "dive!"
The situation in which Griezmann found himself was routine for a quick striker and yet, after the rejection of his penalty claim and booking, to swear in the referee's face is a huge deviance from the norm: In 362 club appearances in Spain, this was his first red card.
Just as in the case of Ronaldo, Griezmann's situation affects his country as well as his club. France are second in their group behind Sweden and have their next opponents, Netherlands, breathing down their necks. As such, while Griezmann missing competitive match time this weekend isn't a disaster for Didier Deschamps, it's a long way from what the French manager would have liked.
Banega? He, like Griezmann, thought he could get away with receiving a booking and using a foul insult to the man in black, then trying to look disbelieving and pained when a red card was shown. Banega's teammates even had to drag him away from a nose-to-nose confrontation with Hernandez Hernandez.
The actions were utterly incomprehensible and I'd wager that, while we heard of no reprimands for Ronaldo or Griezmann, Toto Berizzo, Sevilla's extremely firm-minded coach, will hammer his countryman in private.
And Ramos, the equal most sent-off player in Liga history with 18? His life, career, reputation, trophies and salary dictate that, despite the horrible red stain on his CV, he is in credit when his misdemeanor:success ratio is weighed up.
There is going to come a time when age dents his athleticism and his tendency to think that he can slide in and use his physicality to compensate for positioning. When, like on Sunday, a striker like Florin Andone, looks to rile him, to run at him, Ramos has to find a way to regulate the pressure cooker in his head.
There's a direct link between his derring-do exploits when things go right and his central belief that he can get away with influencing referees, even when his conduct is patently punishable.
Granted, the refereeing error element was present at the Riazor; there is no question Schar shouldn't have run up to pick an issue with Ramos in the 53rd minute, which saw both men booked. But how Gonzalez Gonzalez could see Ramos putting a full hand on the Swiss defender's face and pushing him firmly to the ground, only to judge it worthy of just a yellow, is unfathomable.
Yet Ramos' biggest culpability was nursing his wrath, keeping it warm until the last minute of the match and then launching into an elbow-first challenge that saw him dismissed.
This is the San Francisco 1967, flowers-in-your-hair, meditation and Chamomile tea part of the season, with no everything-on-the-line matches or challenges! The season isn't just in its infancy; it's in nappies and sleeping for 10 hours a day after a good feed.
So was all this just an unconnected surge of daftness from these top footballers? Has their respect for refereeing dipped so low that their tempers are lost at the first setback?
Or, worst of all, might a culture have been created, whereby elite players, paid like rock stars, know that they can do and say pretty much what they want without their manager being able to rein them in, because there's a dearth of such talent?
My view is that players hate not playing and so, with fingers crossed, hopefully we see less of this in the months ahead, as clubs, the league and the football association clamp down hard.
Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of "Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World." Twitter: @BumperGraham.