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It is always a struggle to summon up sympathy for a player who commits an obvious offence on the fringes of the penalty area and is punished by a spot-kick, and Martin Demichelis would be no exception even without Manuel Pellegrini's complaints. Still, the incident raises questions beyond that of how many matches the Manchester City manager will watch from the stands.
The defender's prospects of reaching the ball without first taking Lionel Messi were slim to nonexistent and Manchester City's protestations about where first contact took place were overblown; seeking reward for committing a foul a fraction of a second before the Barcelona player reached the 18-yard line is to miss the point that justice would have been best served had Messi simply gone on to score. City were unhappy about the dispossession of Jesus Navas, but they had been undone and should not have benefited from Demichelis's desperation. There remains the question, though, of whether they suffered too much.
John Collins raised the perennial issue, of whether the red card plus penalty is too great a punishment (allowing for it being a spot-kick and not a free-kick just outside). These are, undeniably, game-changing moments and when there is a hint of controversy about any aspect of the decision the double blow appears especially harsh. But Demichelis's hopeless challenge - hopeless in the sense that it stood no chance of being successful - was a reminder of exactly why this double punishment exists, and of the risks of removing it.
There are circumstances where any player would commit an offence to preserve his team's chances - such as Luis Suarez's handball for Uruguay in the dying seconds against Ghana at the last World Cup. If the ball goes in then his team are out; the penalty and red card were worth the slim chance that the spot-kick would be missed, as indeed was the case. Far more frequently, though, the risk of suffering the double punishment acts as a deterrent.
As when people call for the abolition of offside, the fallacy is to imagine that we would have the game of today; change the laws and tactics change, too. Every time you see a player pull out of a hopeless challenge in front of goal because he considers the punishment would be too great, without the red card to go with the penalty he would instead dive in. After all, what the hell?
The reason why we wound up with the double punishment was because of what was known at the time as a professional foul, because players were making that calculation. That was before football became quite the high-stakes game of today; it mattered hugely but it was a more patient era. Now, coaches would not hesitate to tell players to take the man, cynically denying opponents obvious goalscoring opportunities.
You cannot but feel sorry for defenders who make successful tackles that are misread by the referee, and who suffer a double injustice. But given that we will never have perfect officiating we have to ask ourselves which rule would give us the fewest injustices. And that is the current one.