Daniel Chapman: Taking Marcelo Bielsa’s suggestion and analysing Gaetano Berardi’s eight Leeds United red cards

“We should analyse if those red cards were fair,” Marcelo Bielsa replied, to a question after the weekend’s defeat to Millwall about Gaetano Berardi’s eighth sending off for Leeds United.
Seeing red: Leeds United's Gaetano Berardi  is sent off by referee James Linington.Seeing red: Leeds United's Gaetano Berardi  is sent off by referee James Linington.
Seeing red: Leeds United's Gaetano Berardi is sent off by referee James Linington.

I like a challenge, especially one that involves uncovering conspiracies against Leeds. Even if they’re imaginary. So I rewound to Berardi’s debut against Accrington Stanley in August 2014, and – and yeah, he’s tried two-footing the lad round the neck there, actually. You’ve seen them given.

After that the picture is less clear cut. There are the double yellows against Huddersfield – that one a month after his debut – and Cardiff in February 2018, accumulated through mistimed lunges as attackers zip by. Bielsa had a phrase for those, and the similar straight red against Sunderland in April 2018: “When you give everything on the pitch, the player with those features can arrive late.”

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Bad tackles happen, but none of these reached the levels of Roy Keane at his most sinister.

Then there are the injustices. Does Berardi make that frustrated lunge against Derby in the play-offs if one of the two fouls on him is given seconds before? Maybe. But against Rotherham in November 2015 the bloody evidence that Berardi was sinned against was pouring from his nose, when he replied to Leon Best’s elbow with a two-handed push in his chest.

It was a restrained reaction in the circumstances; Berardi’s reward was a red card on the day, and another nose-smashing elbow from a Rotherham striker in the return game. This time Matt Derbyshire was sent off, and Berardi settled for punching the grass. The ref’ must have thought about that but kept his card in his pocket.

Bristol City manager Lee Johnson claimed Matty Taylor’s nose was somehow broken when he dived theatrically backwards from Berardi’s face in October 2017; once the suspension was confirmed, Taylor emerged from beneath his bandages to smirk that, actually, he was fine.

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Which brings us to Saturday, and referee James Linington’s fourth red to Leeds in 10 games, after previously sending off Bellusci, Byram and Bridcutt. How tempted he must have been to show a red to Bielsa.

Eight red cards to one player is a club record for Leeds, just in time for the centenary celebration of the club’s history. So Berardi will, at least, be remembered, raising his head above the parapet of anonymity where too many Leeds players have hidden in recent years. Really, who were they all? It’s a shame it can’t be for his excellent performances in the first leg of the play-offs against Derby, or last Tuesday night against West Bromwich Albion, because those get forgotten as soon as he’s shown red in his next game.

But none of us get to choose how we’re remembered. This seems a good moment to remember Bill Poyntz who, in 1922, scored on his debut then, in the next match, became the first Leeds United player to be sent off, for trying to kick a Bury player.

He got married in the morning of United’s next game, against Leicester City, then scored a hat-trick in the afternoon as Leeds won 3-0. Poyntz’s Leeds career fizzled out after 29 games and seven goals, but here we are talking about him. History isn’t always about glory.

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Berardi might not have the record for long, anyway, as the club are appealing. That’s a welcome move after spending last season on the receiving end of the authorities’ capricious – ie in the case of ‘spygate’, made up – punishments. For a club that built its identity upon injustice, Leeds have always been slow to make their case. After the riots in Paris in 1975, the board accepted a four-year ban from European competition with barely a murmur; manager Jimmy Armfield, knowing it was unfair and knowing it would hinder him from signing top-class players, flew to Switzerland to fight UEFA alone. The ban was halved, and the Leeds board, eventually, refunded his travel expenses.

Overturning Berardi’s red card will only remove a one-match suspension. But at least it will put that unwelcome record eighth red back in the pocket, until another referee finds another reason to bring it out. Television pundits blithely agreed that, even if the rules say Berardi’s red at Millwall was unfair, his past record means the rules of fairness no longer apply to him. That is, funnily enough, how Leeds have often been judged as a club over the years.

Gaetano Berardi belongs in our record books, whatever the reason. “Berardi is a loyal player and he gives everything on the pitch,” says Bielsa. Leeds United was always the club for him.

l Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.