It’s a crisp, sunny, January afternoon in Vitoria where the hometown team, Alaves, hold a 1-0 lead as their visitors from the south, Real Betis, attempt to turn defence into attack. A square pass is delivered infield to Sergio Canales who, sensing pressure behind him, deftly lets the ball run across his body and to his left. And then it arrives — late. A thundering challenge through Canales’ right calf that sends him tumbling to the ground, crumpling in a heap. A clamour of pink-shirted arms shoot to the sky in disgust followed soon by that of referee Mateu Lahoz who doesn’t even need to move from his spot to show the offending party the inevitable yellow card.
The culprit, to his credit, is quick to acknowledge his misdeed and offers immediate apology to the prone Canales. Although when a further admonishment arrives in the form of a terse word from Betis captain Joaquin, repentance quickly turns to rancour. Our protagonist responds angrily, pacing after the veteran, firing a verbal volley of his own before swiftly turning back to check on Canales’ wellbeing again — not once but twice.
The scene ultimately ends amicably, indeed comically, as after some confusion over the restart, a typically theatrical blast of the whistle from referee Lahoz startles the Alaves captain Manu Garcia stood just inches away.
It was the 101st and, probably, the last yellow card of Wakaso Mubarak’s eclectic career in Spanish football. He is substituted on 85 minutes, having been in many observers’ eyes lucky to have not seen red for once again chopping down Canales on almost the very same blade of grass. The following week Wakaso duly serves out his third suspension of the season before departing for Jiangsu Suning of the Chinese Super League.
La Liga will miss the unique character of the Ghanaian international. By all accounts an extraordinarily humble and likeable individual off the field, on the field Wakaso brings extreme energy and a competitive hunger that stands out in every full-throttle performance. His driving runs and full-blooded tackling — sometimes well-timed but ofttimes not — livening up even the sleepiest of games.
Referees, however, will more likely be relieved. No one in recent memory has managed to rack up a tally of cards at quite the rate that Wakaso has. In Spain, over ten seasons with six different clubs the midfielder has seen yellow on average once every 130 minutes. To put that into context that is more than double the rate of that of Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos — the 21st century’s benchmark example of playing on the edge. Ramos clocks up booking at a rate of one every 272 minutes.
It’s a similar story when it comes to red cards. Ramos’ fabled tally of dismissals have come along on average once every 2,294 minutes (or one in roughly every 25 games), our man Wakaso has seen red once every 1,317 mins (or one in roughly every 15 matches).
Indeed if we attempt to put these feats into a historical context, only former Valencia midfielder Enzo Perez comes anywhere close to giving Wakaso a run for his money when it comes to bookings. The table below displays a select cohort of prolific card recipients and the rates at which they collected them in Spain.
|Player||Mins Played||Yellows||Mins per yellow|
When the focus is purely on red cards we do have someone who can surpass our contender. Step forward Uruguayan midfielder Pablo Garcia who, despite a remarkable tally of cards in his spell at Osasuna managed to surprisingly earn a move to Real Madrid in 2005.
|Player||Mins Played||Reds||Mins per red|
|Juanito (Atletico Madrid)||29,837||17||1,755|
Statistically speaking, Wakaso is certainly mixing with some of the most fearsome hard-men in Spanish football history. Still, in mitigation it can be argued that most of his encounters with officialdom spring from hyper enthusiasm as opposed to an outright desire to physically harm opponents or gain notoriety.
That isn’t to say that it’s all sunshine and rainbows as his relentless approach is at times prone to exasperating opponents and creating flash-points, notably getting under the skin of Real Madrid’s Casemiro in the Bernabeu last season. Ultimately though once more, he was keen to play down the confrontation.
From troubled times as a young professional at Elche, to Champions League football with Villarreal, cult hero status at Las Palmas to midfield mainstay at Alaves and lots more in-between, Wakaso has certainly left his mark on Spanish football in a marvellously multifaceted decade.
Farewell and good luck Wakaso – you will be missed.