The Champions League Yellow Card Rule

New rule ensures fewer club football players are suspended for final

Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City is shown the yellow card during the first half by referee Stephane Lannoy during the UEFA Champions League
Alex Livesey/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The Champions League, the annual European club football (soccer) competition, changed its rules regarding yellow cards in 2014 so that players penalized in the semifinals do not miss the finals. Yellow cards accumulated in the group stage of Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) club competitions are erased after the quarterfinals.

Previous Penalty Was Harsh

Players face a one-match suspension from the competition once they have picked up three yellow cards. Previously, this meant that some players were finding themselves paying the harsh penalty of missing the Champions League final if they happened to pick up their third booking of the competition in the semifinal second leg, after picking up just two bookings in the preceding 11 matches.

Therefore, these players were faced with the unjust scenario of missing the final, while others who had picked up their three yellow cards earlier in the competition had served their suspension and were able to play in the final.

Rule Change Benefits Players and Fans

Now, a player who who gets one yellow card in one leg of a semifinal is not suspended for the final. The UEFA, European soccer's governing body, changed the rule ahead of the 2014-15 edition of the Champions League, whereby any yellow cards accrued are wiped out after the quarterfinal stage. This means that the only way a player would miss the final through on-field discipline is if they were given a red card in one of the two semifinals, or if they were handed a ban retrospectively.

The rule was first implemented at Euro 2012 and also applies to the Europa League.

Xabi Alonso and Pavel Nedved are high-profile examples of players who have missed the Champions League final after picking up their third booking of the tournament in the semifinal second leg.

The rule change was designed to ensure that the Champions League showpiece has as many of the top players as possible—to the benefit of the players, teams, and fans.

Official Yellow Card Rules

The current UEFA Champions League regulations on yellow cards are as follows:

49.03. Single yellow cards and pending suspensions are always carried forward either to the next stage of the competition or to the UEFA Europa League in the current season.

49.04. Exceptionally, all yellow cards and pending yellow-card suspensions expire on completion of the playoffs. They are not carried forward to the group stage. In addition, all yellow cards expire on completion of the quarterfinals. They are not carried forward to the semifinals.

49.05. Cautions and pending yellow-card suspensions from the competition or the UEFA Europa League expire at the end of the season.

Yellow Card Record

In the 2017-18 season, Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos has set the all-time Champions League record for yellow cards when he received his 33rd career yellow. He broke the record previously set by former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes. As a result of the yellow card penalty, Ramos missed the second leg of Real Madrid's quarterfinal against Juventus, but thanks to the four-year-old rules change, he remained eligible for the final, which his team won, 3-1, over Liverpool.