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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.

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