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Petulant & reckless: Stars' bad habits erupt early in season

LONDON (AP) — New season, old habits. Referees are encountering insolent behavior. Hot-headed stars are kicking out. Players are embroiled in transfer standoffs. The petulant streak within footballers is burning brightly after the summer break in Europe, and the world player of the year is leading by (bad) example.

When Cristiano Ronaldo pushed a referee during the Spanish Super Cup victory against Barcelona, soccer's red line was crossed. The booking for diving might have been severe and the Real Madrid forward was incensed. But the physical contact was unforgivable.

Ronaldo also only had himself to blame for accumulating two bookings, since the first followed the trademark brash goal celebration he knows breaches the rules: Flash his torso to the cameras after removing the jersey.

Ronaldo will feel harshly treated again by Spanish authorities — he's already fighting tax charges in court — but in reality he got off lightly with a five-match domestic ban. "The authority and the safety of the referee deserves the utmost respect and cannot be challenged," the Spanish federation said in Monday's judgment, "even in the hypothetical situation of having made a wrong decision."

It was the culmination of a weekend of flare-ups in leading European competitions. A referee also faced impertinent behavior in London. Cesc Fabregas was booked for sarcastically applauding after a free kick was awarded against the Chelsea midfielder in the first half of Saturday's Premier League opener against Burnley.

What made Fabregas' reaction even more reckless was that the champions had already seen captain Gary Cahill dismissed two minutes earlier for a wild challenge. Being unable to curb his own impulses, Fabregas received the second booking late in the second half for a lunge of his own as Chelsea imploded to open its title defense with a shock loss.

The inability to maintain discipline also proved costly for Newcastle. The Premier League newcomers were drawing 0-0 with last season's runners-up, Tottenham, when Jonjo Shelvey was sent off for treading on Dele Alli's foot right. It was particularly foolish: The referee was right next to the pair. Newcastle paid the price, losing its season opener 2-0.

Across in France, Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan also lost his cool on Sunday when he threw the ball at Strasbourg's Benjamin Corgnet and saw red. The impact of the dismissal was compounded by the inability of Lille manager Marcelo Bielsa to replace an outfield player with the back-up goalkeeper from the bench because he had used up his three substitutions. In the final half hour three goals were conceded as a stalemate at 11 vs. 11 became a 3-0 loss to a promoted team.

"More than criticizing," Bielsa said, "I want to find answers to situations that are avoidable." The most relieved player on the continent should be Miralem Pjanic. During Sunday's Italian Super Cup, the Juventus midfielder kicked Lazio striker Ciro Immobile's ankle in an off-the-ball reaction to an early foul. Pjanic escaped with a yellow card so he won't be joining Ronaldo, Fabregas, Cahill, Shelvey and Corgnet in sitting out upcoming games.

Other players are missing early season matches without even encountering a referee. They want to be pulling on the shirts of other clubs so are locked in power battles to be sold to a higher bidder. Virgil van Dijk wants out of Southampton after pursing a move to Liverpool, which is fighting off interest in Philippe Coutinho from Barcelona, which was forced into selling Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain after his 222 million-euro ($264 million) release clause was met.

All this money swilling round irritated Tottenham defender Danny Rose who moaned in an interview, not only about the size of his pay packet, but also the club's failure to go on a transfer binge like Manchester City's $260 million spree.

Rose, who is still recovering from injury, urged Tottenham to sign established stars and "not players you have to Google and say, 'Who's that?'" Rose went on to say: "I know my worth and I will make sure I get what I am worth."

Tottenham forced an apology out of Rose for the newspaper interview. One might also be forthcoming from Chelsea striker Diego Costa, who grumbled to another British paper that he was being treated like a "criminal" because the London club has not released him to join Atletico Madrid.

A few weeks on the beach during the summer has clearly done little to mellow footballers in Europe. Long before the title battles and relegation struggles get going, the players are erupting on the pitch and with their employers.

No wonder UEFA is launching a new respect campaign later this month. It can't come soon enough.

Global Soccer Writer Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer

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