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

Mar 5, 2013, 6:31 PM EDT

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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.

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