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The Fiver | Just a man, standing in front of a boy, asking him to sign a yellow card

PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT

There is something heartwarming about seeing a 47-year-old man, a father of two, someone who has been involved in football for his entire adult life, rendered buckle-kneed like some starry-eyed teenager in the presence of someone who is, after all, just another footballer. There is a pleasing lack of cynicism about the moment, a refreshing lack of thought about how others might view him. Here is someone used to being treated with deference and to treating others with detachment, and for an instant that is all stripped away and he is just a man, standing in front of a boy, asking him to sign a yellow card for him. And also a red card, if he would be so kind.

Then again, he is a match official and a grown-up, and really should know better. The man in question is Octavian Sovre, who just last month was reprimanded by Uefa for issues arising from the handling of PSG’s game against Istanbul Basaksehir. You would have thought that he’d keep his head down for a while, but there the assistant ref was, moments after the final whistle in the Big Cup quarter-final between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund, marching up to Erling Haaland, pen in hand. The Norwegian thus took the unusual step of writing his own name in an official’s book, but he might not be the last. Sovre once said that “I try to give equal importance to all parties”. From this moment on, the only way he will be able to demonstrate his lack of favouritism is by asking every single player he officiates to sign a yellow card, which could lead to considerable tunnel-based congestion.

But then, The Fiver doesn’t think Sovre is unduly concerned about being a bit unpopular. He has been unpopular before. There was, for example, the time in 1996 when he was refereeing a match in Romania’s regional fourth division. The game was being played in Sacueni, a small town in Bihor, his native part of Romania, and the away side was already 1-0 up when Sovre gave them a penalty. This development left some members of the home team, Staruinta, more than a little disgruntled. So disgruntled, in fact, that Sovre ended up spending the best part of the following three weeks in hospital. “Two of their players beat the living daylights out of me,” Sovre later recalled. The then 23-year-old spent 18 days convalescing, considering his past and his future. And, reader, did he resolve to become one of the best officials in all of Europe, no matter the physical cost? Damned right he did.

And perhaps it was then, lying immobile, that he dreamt of a day, long into the future, when he would officiate a really important match between two teams full of stars, and how at the end of it he would ruddy well get one of them to sign his yellow card, so that many more years down the line he could gaze upon it in his dotage and remember how far he had come, and how brave he had needed to be to get there, to finally be respected across the continent (although strangely still not in Bihor, where last year he was officially declared “an undesirable person” by the county FA after a major falling-out with its president). Oh, and as for Staruinta, “the two players were banned from sport for life, and the team was given a fine so large they were forced to close down”. As Erling Haaland obviously decided when approached with an unusual post-match request, you don’t mess with Octavian Sovre.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We didn’t want a Spiderman costume. We wanted to buy Maradona’s boots and his shirt. We wanted to be him” – former Argentina midfielder Pablo Aimar talks all things Argentina and superheroes.

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NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

Fan return news.

Liverpool have called on social media disgraces to take action after Trent Alexander-Arnold and Naby Keïta both received racist abuse following Liverpool’s defeat to Real Madrid. “It is utterly unacceptable and it has to stop,” said the club.

Ipswich Town are now owned by a USA! USA!! USA!!! investment group called Gamechanger 20, who have sealed a £40m deal to buy the League One club.

Back of the net! East Anglian rivals Norwich could secure an immediate Premier League return on Saturday after banging 7 [SEVEN – Fiver Vidiprinter Ed] past Huddersfield.

Strong height from Emi Buendía.

Derby County’s owners have agreed to sell the club to No Limits Sports Limited. Techno, techno, techno, techno.

Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney faces up to six weeks out with knee-knack, although the full-back will not need surgery.

Luis Suárez could be on the Atlético Madrid sidelines for three weeks with a bout of leg-ouch.

And Kevin De Bruyne has signed a two-year contract extension at Manchester City. “I could not be happier. Since joining City in 2015, I have felt at home,” he cheered.

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Megan Finnigan, earlier.

Jamie Jackson ponders whether Erling Haaland would really suit Pep Guardiola’s system at Manchester City.

Liverpool allowed Toni Kroos to control the midfield in Madrid but the tie is far from over, writes Barney Ronay.

Coventry’s ska tribute, Colonel Gaddafi’s son and a red-faced trophy engraver: they’re all in this week’s Knowledge.

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