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The big red for Nani and the Red Devils? It was the wrong refereeing choice

Mar 5, 2013, 6:25 PM EDT

FBL-EUR-C1-MAN UTD-REAL MADRID

We will be fussing and fighting about the monumental decision from Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for a while … so why wait?

Richard Farley already told you his opinion in an earlier ProSoccerTalk post. His verdict: correct choice.

My verdict: Not so much.

The decision that so roiled Sir Alex Ferguson and thousands around fabled Old Trafford, the highly controversial red card to Manchester United’s Nani for connecting chest-high with Real Madrid’s unlucky Alvaro Arbeloa, was far from the most egregious refereeing mistake I’ve ever seen. But it was wrong.

To be sure, going down 10 men is not the only reason Manchester United’s Champions League run is over. Robin van Persie needed to be better around goal. Wayne Rooney, too, on one point-blank volley.

Manchester United sat back too deep in defense after the red. (I mean, Ferguson’s men were still at home.) Plus, Jose Mourinho made the right sub, while Luka Modric and Diego Lopez were difference makers. So credit to Real Madrid.

That said … it was still the wrong refereeing choice.

I’m never one to say the rules should be adjusted for bigger matches. Rules are rules, so the old saw about how a referee “cannot decide a big match” is poppycock in my book.

But …

Big matches do deserve extra caution in rendering such a weighty choice. And they do probably deserve a little more benefit of the doubt.

It’s worth going to the nearside referee’s assistant: “What did you see?”

It’s worth going to the fourth official: “What did you see?”

We didn’t see Cakir doing this, but we don’t know if this critical back-and-forth was being conducted through the headsets. It may have been. Either way, all three should be in 100 percent agreement that this thing amounts to the reddest of reds. And I just do not see how that could be.

Nani’s eyes were on the ball. This was incident of “head hunting.”

Yes it was dangerous, reckless and potentially injurious. It was a poor choice on Nani’s part to fly in so high, so forcefully with a Real Madrid man potentially nearby.

But I don’t see how anyone can make a compelling case that Nani absolutely knew there was a Real man nearby. In this case, being careless, even dangerously so, doesn’t rise to felony level. It’s a bad misdemeanor.

This was no “Nigel de Jong;” that notorious stunt in a huge World Cup 2010 moment was a full-on, from the front, intentional Dutch shoe aimed center mass, horribly dangerous, right in the chest. That’s a red card – only it wasn’t during South African final because too much benefit of the doubt was provided.

This time, not enough was.

Nani deserved a yellow.

  1. dws110 - Mar 5, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    According to ITV via the Guardian, the ref took advice from the goal line official before issuing the red card.

    • Steve Davis - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:40 PM

      Interesting. If that’s true, why not the RA and the 4th official, who would seem to have had at least as good a view / angle, if not better?

  2. schlom - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    Of course it was the wrong choice. I’m sure there are potentially dangerous plays a few times a game – for example in the first half (I think) Diego Lopez punched Vidic in the face while attempting to clear a corner kick. That play was a heck of lot more dangerous than Nani’s (because it was a blow to the head) but I think no one would want to see a red card in that situation because there was no intent to injure.

  3. term3186 - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    I’m going to have to vote for yellow as well. Dangerous? Sure. Reckless? Definitely. But Excessive Force – required for a red? I just don’t see it. that hit is about as gentle as it could possibly be. Unintentional and reckless. Yellow for me. Now I don’t blame the referee really. That hit probably looked awful in real time, and here we have the benefit of slow motion replay.

  4. thehighcountrybear - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    Had a United player been similarly fouled producing a yellow card, the outrage would have deafening! I’ve lost count of calls benefitting the Red Devils during Sir Alex’s reign, so the law of averages was bound to turn on the redoubtable Mr. Ferguson. All the same, the Champions League is suddenly less interesting…

    • btrocco - Mar 5, 2013 at 8:13 PM

      Well said! +1

  5. jamezyjamez - Mar 6, 2013 at 12:22 AM

    no united fan here and agree that it all evens out with the favorable treatment from officials…but damn that was a soft red.

  6. wfjackson3 - Mar 6, 2013 at 12:27 AM

    Steve, why is it important that Nani knew a RM player may have been in his way? Quite frankly, I think his intent is unreasonably clouding your judgment. We usually use intent as a good barometer for whether or not something was a certain level because it makes things easier. However, we shouldn’t rely on it too much. He did more than just endanger other players; he was negligent of the safety of others in a very severe fashion. I think his negligence is sufficient that this should have been red.

  7. mihawkins - Mar 6, 2013 at 9:05 AM

    By the rule book actions which create the direct danger of injury are punishable with red. It doesn’t matter if Nani didn’t know Arbeloa was there. He came in with a high kick that connected with the other player. However inadvertant the kick was, the risk Nani takes by trying the play is that he might connect with another player, and the red is appropriate.

    • unclemosesgreen - Mar 8, 2013 at 6:01 PM

      It wasn’t a kick. If it had been a kick, Arbeloa would have gone straight to the hospital. It was a high boot that was going to try to settle the ball. Not a kicking motion, a settling motion.

  8. chadmoon1 - Mar 6, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Sorry Steve, but you are the one who is wrong on this one. I did not see the game live, but saw the replay. Immediately I winced and said “that’s red”. No question about it. When you go into a challenge feet a flyin and cleats exposed, and you hit someone in the chest, you go off. No if’s, ands, or buts. Whether you were intending to do it or not is not in the equation. It’s too bad the game was ruined by the send off, but it was Nani who ruined it, not the referee.

  9. unclemosesgreen - Mar 8, 2013 at 5:59 PM

    Ref got this one all wrong. It’s a foul, and if I had been working the center I would have produced a yellow to Nani, and I would have apologized while I was doing so. I would have told him “I know you didn’t see him or know he was there, I know you were just trying to settle the ball, but you caught him high and I have to give you this (flashes card briefly.)”

    The thing that was so surprising to me about that decision was that he took his time and seemed so calm. Usually when you see a referee make this kind of mistake, it’s because they have a rush of blood to the head and pull out the red card so quickly that their better judgment has no time to take over. I saw his lips moving so I knew he was asking for help. Just a strange, strange decision.

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