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Graham Poll’s view of Nani’s red card highlights England, world divide

Mar 5, 2013, 6:31 PM EDT

FBL-EUR-C1-MAN UTD-REAL MADRID Getty Images

Graham Poll is one of the most famous officials in the world. Well, former officials. Nowadays he is the foremost pundit concerning refereeing, his regular columns in The Daily Mail leveraging a career that includes two World Cups, a European Championship, a UEFA Cup final, and over 1,500 matches refereed in England.

Today Poll was quick to go on record on the Nani controversy, where a red card shown to Manchester United’s winger turned today’s match at Old Trafford. Before his foul, United was up 2-1 and had firm control of their match against Real Madrid. Afterward, United gave up two quick goals and were eliminated from Champions League.

Poll’s view on the foul? Well, there are actually two:

The Portuguese winger challenged for the ball with a raised foot and only had eyes for the ball but caught Alvaro Arbeloa. It looked like dangerous play and at worst a yellow card.

Pretty clear, right? Skip down a few paragraphs and you get a more nuanced assessment:

… elite UEFA referees watching will not have been surprised at the red card but the English ones would acknowledge they would not have dismissed a player for the same offence in a Premier League game.

So by an English standard this was a foul, but per the rest of the world — or at least Europe — this was a red card?

(MORE, from Steve: “Big matches do deserve extra caution …”)

Well, yeah. That makes sense. Anybody who follows the European game closely knows of this divide, one which also manifests  in our part of the world. British soccer is far more tolerant of hard tackles and borderline challenges, whereas the continental game is  more likely to take a strict view of what does and does not constitute a dangerous play. Here in North America, where soccer culture maintains deep ties to Britian’s, our reactions often mirror the English’s, but it’s important to remember that’s not only way world soccer looks at these events.

England and Britain have one way at looking at how the game should be played. In situations like these, we’re reminded that view often deviates from how UEFA and FIFA instruct its officials:

However, I understand that the protection of players and ensuring their safety is drummed into UEFA referees at all seminars and with Pierluigi Collina, the European referees’ chief,  sitting in the stand, Cakir will have felt enormous pressure to follow those guidelines.

Emphasis mine. Poll says that calls like today’s are part of UEFA’s guidance. Yet he still calls the play “at worst a yellow card.”

Today’s game may have been in Manchester, but Turkish official Cuneyt Cakir applied the continental standard. But since that standard deviates from the one Britain’s implicitly adopted, we’re going to hear more about this one.

  1. Tejmgas - Mar 5, 2013 at 6:42 PM

    As a United fan, I was bitterly disappointed to see the red card but deep down not too surprised. Think the referee might’ve made the correct decision in the end.
    http://anotherasianunitedfan.wordpress.com/

  2. dws110 - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:01 PM

    I really don’t understand the argument that it can’t be dangerous play if you’re not paying attention (“only had eyes for the ball”). Doesn’t that make it more dangerous, to be oblivious to players around you? Nani went in chest high with his studs showing, I don’t think red was harsh at all.

    For what it’s worth, English ref Howard Webb was dead wrong not to red card de Jong for the same challenge on Xabi Alonso in Johannesburg, and admitted as much later. Chest high + studs + contact = red.

    • schlom - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:32 PM

      If you believe that than should Diego Lopez should have gotten a red card for punching Vidic in the face in the first half?

      • term3186 - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:40 PM

        Pretty sure everyone believes de Jong should’ve been ejected.

      • philneezy - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:42 PM

        Goalkeepers are allowed free reign in their area.

    • wfjackson3 - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:41 PM

      I agree with you 100%. Chest high + studs + contact + not even looking should = a huge fine. Its absolutely reckless. What if he had hit someone in the face?

  3. thehighcountrybear - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    Black & white…? Good call…the force with which Nani was himself turned on studs-up contact shows the extent of danger and subsequent damage warranting a sending off. It’s always a shame a match is darkened by a game-changing call, but seeking relief in the area of subjective consideration is without merit, and in of itself, the very thing that feeds controversy had the call been less severe.

  4. malvaren18 - Mar 5, 2013 at 9:32 PM

    Stop your whining, The true European champs are moving on to the next round, hala Madrid

  5. manchestermiracle - Mar 6, 2013 at 1:04 AM

    Maybe Arbeloa shouldn’t have recklessly run into Nani’s foot. Talk about not keeping your head up and paying attention. Nani was playing the ball and got there before Arbeloa, so if anyone’s at fault for the collision it would be Arbeloa.

    Both players were temporarily stunned by the play, but neither was really hurt. The referee ended up affecting the match in a measurable way,but let’s not forget that futbol at the top level has already proven to be a crap-shoot so it’s quite possible this was just another fixed match.

    • mattinn_b - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:41 AM

      What do you mean with `Nani was playing the ball and got there before Arbeloa’? Arbeloa got the ball, Nani never touched it.

      (By that said, I don’t say that was a red card. A yellow in my book.)

  6. oasiserfede - Mar 6, 2013 at 7:35 AM

    - The Portuguese winger challenged for the ball –

    When an argument starts with a fallacy, what are you supposed to do?

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