Why UEFA are right to sanction Atletico Madrid

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The Spanish press reaction to the roof caving in on poor old Atlético’s world - not that much of the Vicente Calderón has a roof, mind - could have appeared in one of three ways on Wednesday.

a) a thoughtful investigation into why UEFA decided to take such dramatic action against Atlético and a discussion into the steps needed to ensure there is no repeat in the future.

b) a hysterical bout of finger-pointing, conspiracy theory spreading and baseless, xenophobic attacks on the French. 

c) a discussion on how wonderful on a scale of one to 10 Pep Guardiola / Messi / Barcelona are as a concept.

Unsurprisingly, c) was the option chosen by the Catalan papers who are apparently oblivious and uninterested in the anxiety over at Atlético.

Everywhere else, b) is the favoured approach. And then some.

Stewards wade into Marseille supporters at the Calderon 

The general furious feeling in the Madrid-based papers is that an unlucky Atlético Madrid have been used, abused and - to put it bluntly - screwed by The Man. But more especially, the French.

It is hard to find a single opinion to suggest otherwise within the panic-stricken pages of either Marca or AS.

“Platini, the UEFA president, is French. The club whose Ultras were attacked is French and the players who were offended were French, too,” moaned the idiotic Alfredo Relaño in AS adding two and two together and coming up with 17 in Wednesday’s editorial.

“I urge a peaceful protest to support Atlético Madrid,” writes Roberto Gómez in Marca, claiming that the club has “a magnificent president in Enrique Cerezo,” who should be backed 100% during these dark times.

La Liga Loca would like to point out to Gómez that the Calderón club literally has a criminal as a president who was found guilty of fiddling Atlético’s books but avoided prison due to a statute of limitations.

All this ‘j’accuse-ing’ and fro-ing means that option a) - the most sensible of the lot, has been tossed out of the journalistic window without a second thought by the local press on what has been one of their worst days for some time.

La Liga Loca has some home truths for Atlético Madrid. UEFA have imposed this sanction as they are fearful - with justification - of the potentially deadly combination of an out of control police force, the club’s general incompetence and the visit of thousands of English and Dutch football fans.

Whilst the Spanish press have repeatedly highlighted the UEFA match report praising the ‘perfect organisation’ of the game against Marseille, it has overlooked the key factor which has brought the football body to the conclusion that a two-match stadium ban is the only punishment possible.

Yes, they may have been able to move the press area to the car park and label the toilets in two languages, but there was too much evidence of the complete inability and unwillingness for Atlético Madrid to take responsibility for what happens in their own stadium.

Similar scenes in February for the visit of Bolton 

UEFA’s report is critical of the local police’s decision to wade into the Marseille end, shortly before the match started, in an attempt to remove a banner with the word ‘Ultras’ on it and a picture of a pirate’s skull.

“It was not treated as racist or religious,” writes Gerhard Kapl in the documentation noting that the banner’s display was discussed at length before the match.

The report goes on to accuse the police of taking action to remove the banner without consulting either the UEFA delegate in charge of security or the venue director for the match.

“My opinion is that the removal of the banner by the police provoked the incidents,” writes Kapl on the scuffles with the Marseille fans.

The report also writes of a seat and bottles being thrown at the pitch - with one half-full Coca Cola bottle landing in the zone set aside for disabled Marseille fans, causing them to be moved to a safer part of the stadium by a UEFA official.

These unfortunate incidents are not in isolation. In February’s UEFA Cup clash against Bolton in the Spanish capital, La Liga Loca witnessed how the home side’s Ultras had free reign of the stadium and attempted to attack the area set aside for Wanderers' fans - fans whose behaviour was praised by the local police.

But none of this is the club’s responsibility, says Enrique Cerezo. “Atlético Madrid are not in control of the stadium when the game starts, but the police.”

Cerezo could not be more wrong, say UEFA in a statement. “Atlético are completely responsible for what happens inside the ground. No discussion.”

The backlash against the decision has begun in earnest in the Spanish press with Marca accusing Platini of bowing to local pressure by commenting in French paper La Provence that he had received letters from disabled Marseille fans reporting what they had suffered in Spain - fans who, of course, should have delighted in the experience of watching a game of football with bottles raining down on them.

“If the independent discipline commission does not impose a sanction that is appropriate, I’ll appeal it myself,” said Platini to the paper - evidence for Marca that the UEFA chief had it in for Atlético from the start.

Elsewhere in the game in Spain everyone has been falling in line behind Atlético Madrid with, Sevilla president, José Maria del Nido offering “solidarity to our brother clubs. They have our stadium at their disposal” - a stadium where Tottenham fans were assaulted by local police in a recent UEFA Cup clash, let’s not forget.

Torres: Denied dream return to Atletico with Liverpool 

Atlético have failed - and continue to fail - to realise that they are dealing with a different beast in UEFA. They are no longer working with the Spanish authorities who deal with situations like the Montjuic scuffles from two weeks ago, with a fine and a hope that the whole affair is quickly forgotten.

As William Gaillard, UEFA spokesman, said on Tuesday, "We are concerned about the fans. We know they face hardship and disruption and we sympathise with that, but we needed to punish Atlético Madrid. We have no alternative.”

The incidents of racist abuse may have been punished with a fine and a threat of a ground closure, but the lack of crowd control before, during and after the match - with the Marseille team coach being attacked by home fans - is a whole different area that needed the strongest of reactions from UEFA.

There are a lot of losers in this situation from the thousands of Liverpool fans whose plans have been disrupted to Fernando Torres who looks set to miss out on his homecoming.

But for once, UEFA have made the right decision.

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