What happened April 23, 2016, at the 45+1:46 of stoppage time, at the Vicente Calderon Stadium, in Madrid, Spain, during the match between Atletico Madrid and Malaga, which ended 1-0 in favor of the hosts? At first, no one was sure of what they had seen, but the referee understood what he was required, by rule, to do.
As the first half neared completion, the score was 0-0 and Malaga was in an upsurge. The Boquerones were vying for that opening goal on a counterattack down the left wing that seemed to be turning into a breakaway. The Atleti defense seemed to be out of position and rushing to catch up. Simeone could not allow the opposition to pull ahead in a match his team had so far dominated and badly needed to win.
Real Madrid had won two hours earlier to put pressure on the Colchoneros and the Cules who played after the Atleti game. The three big Spanish Football teams were grouped together at the top of the La Liga table but with a point separating point co-leaders Barcelona (on top via goal differential) and Atletico, from Real.
So in the waning moments of the tied first half, as Malaga’s Portuguese midfielder, Ricardo Horta, number 10, was streaking down the left wing, in front of the Atleti bench, and Simeone was standing on the sidelines, in the coach’s box, a ball was thrown onto the pitch from the sideline, right next to Simeone. The incoming ball was aimed at Horta. It missed him but certainly impeded play if only because the ball came by in his line of sight. An added ball on the pitch during play is of course against the rules, as is throwing any object onto the field to disrupt play.
The referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, let play continue, and seconds later, when he blew his whistle to end the game. He came running toward the sideline where Simeone and Atleti were getting ready to leave for the locker rooms. Videos show that Lahoz suspects something untoward happened but he is sticking to his straight-man’s script and acting only upon what he knows.
He pulls Simeone aside, sends all others away, and tells the home team coach that the rule book states that the host team is responsible for the balls in a match and thus if one is throw in, and disrupts play, by rule the coach of the home team is sanctioned.
So, Simeone is sent off, thrown out of the match. Would his passion be held in check?
What the referee did not yet know was that Simeone’s shrug of the shoulders as he left the pitch, which followed his open palm/open hands gesture, signifying that he felt he was innocent of any wrongdoing but acknowledged what the rules called for, was a sham.
What Simeone did not yet know was that another television angle clearly showed him telling someone in the vicinity of the Atleti bench (we would later find out it was a ball boy) to throw the ball onto the pitch.
What we are still awaiting to hear is what sort of sanction such an action merits. What all might hope is that the coach is simply disqualified from the rest of the season and that additional punishments come Atleti’s way for the egregious act and for the permissive culture Simeone has fostered at the Vicente Calderon since his arrival.