Was Nani right to be sent off in Manchester United v Real Madrid?By Dick Sawdon-Smith
March 13, 2013
The Ref's Column
The biggest talking point last week was without doubt the sending off of Manchester United’s Nani in their Champions League match at Old Trafford, when they lost against Real Madrid knocking them out of the tournament.
Many felt it was a decision that changed the outcome of the match, for United were leading at the time and seemed well in control of the game.
Sir Alex Ferguson was incensed with rage and even the most ardent anti-United fan I think must have some sympathy.
He had out-thought Jose Mourinho, who admitted that the best team lost.
But more than that, he must have been hoping to match the former great United manager, Sir Matt Busby, who lifted the trophy at Wembley against Benfica in 1968.
Into this hyped up caldron stepped experienced FIFA referee, Cuneyt Cakir with a red card.
The question that has to answered is - was it a sending off offence?
There can’t be many who haven’t seen it on television but if you’re one of the few, let me set the scene.
The ball cleared out of defence was bouncing high roughly in the middle of the pitch. Nani ran towards it and lifted his right leg high to try and stop it, hoping to bring it under control.
However, also running toward the ball, on his blind side and seemingly unknown to him was Alvaro Arbeloa.
The two players clashed and both went down with Arbeloa holding his chest.
From the main camera angle up in the stands, that’s just what it looked like, a clash of players at speed. However, another camera angle, from the referee’s viewpoint, showed that Nani’s boot caught Arbeloa high in his chest.
Dermot Gallagher, former FIFA referee has said if you lift your feet high in European football then you risk being sent off. There is no doubt Nani’s foot was very high but that in itself doesn’t commit any offence and I think it unlikely that he had any expectation of injuring anyone.
However, an action which is safe when there are no other players close, becomes dangerous when there are, even if the danger has been caused by the movement of the opponent, over which the offender has no control.
This was exactly the case in the Nani incident with Arbeloa running in to challenge for the ball.
But of course what happened is that Nani caught Arboloa with his boot and that changes things.
Once there is physical contact as happened here, then it becomes an offence punishable with a direct free kick.
Going on from there, in the interpretations and guidance for referees, which appear in the back of the Laws of the Game it says: “In the case of physical contact, the referee should carefully consider the high probability that misconduct has occurred.”
So we are upping the stakes, it is clear a foul has been committed but what the referee has to ask himself is if there has also been misconduct which should lead either to a caution or a sending off.
To be a sending off offence, it has to be serious foul play and the book says that this happens if the player uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball and endangers his opponent’s safety.
That was the decision referee Cakir was faced with: did Nani use excessive force or brutality when he kicked Arbeloa in the chest?
From his position on the field of play, he concluded that he did and, therefore, sent him off.