Sir Alex Ferguson who is very well known for his one-eyed partisanship when it comes to decisions that have gone against him, obviously felt rather hard done by when Nani was sent off in Manchester United's Champions League tie against Real Madrid. Probably as a direct result of this, United after going down to ten men, conceded two goals and were bundled out of the tournament.
I was waiting for the usual post match interviews and found that neither Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex gave any. Presumably Sir Alex was still fuming in his Glaswegian way as is his wont and so it would have been fair.
I found this on the SBS website this morning and the following words from former Manchester United player and captain Roy Keane:
"I think the referee has actually made the right call. Everyone's upset about it and it's slightly unlucky, but it's dangerous play. Whether he meant it or not is irrelevant. It's dangerous play - it's a red card. You have to be aware of other players on the pitch. Does he think he's going to have 20 yards to himself?
Whether it's a brave decision or not, it's the right decision. Whether he meant it or not doesn't matter. Nani's a quick boy to go down anyway. He's not the bravest player on the planet."
Keane insisted the referee had carefully considered his decision.
He added: "It doesn't matter if he knows there's somebody there or not, it's irrelevant. I don't think the referee actually made the decision because he waited a couple of minutes while the player was getting treatment.
I think it might have been the assistant that made the decision, and I actually think he's made the right call.
We always say referees are very quick to make decisions - he waited a couple of minutes.
Any time I was sent off in my career I always thought, 'did I give the referee the chance to send me off?' And if the answer is yes, then it's out of your hands."
- SBS Website, 6th Mar 2013
The key words in this are these "It's dangerous play - it's a red card". I thought about this and because I've taken the referee's course so I can official at churches' level (in truth I only run the linesman's flag) and couldn't recall the actual words of "dangerous play" even though it made perfect sense. So I consulted the FIFA website to find Law 12 and what constitutes either a foul or misconduct.
Law 12 - fouls and misconduct
Direct free kick
A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:
- jumps at an opponent
- charges an opponent
With Nani, a very strong case can be put forward that he both jumped at and charged an opponent. Careless? Certainly. Reckless? Possibly. Excessive force? Well, going in with the studs of your boots aimed directly at the chest of an opponent doesn't help your cause. Going in studs up anywhere on the pitch is at the very least going to earn you the ire of the referee and most likely a yellow card.
Helpfully, FIFA clarifies each of these terms in an interpretation document on Law 12:
Careless, reckless, using excessive force
“Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.
- No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
“Reckless” means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.
- A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned
“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.
- A player who uses excessive force must be sent off
Charging an opponent
The act of charging is a challenge for space using physical contact within
playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows.
It is an offence to charge an opponent:
- in a careless manner
- in a reckless manner
- using excessive force
This photo quite clearly shows that Nani went in with without using arms or elbows and whether or not it was careless or reckless, the fact that Arbeloa went flying afterwards, would give the vast majority of referees the idea that the amount of force was excessive and FIFA's interpretation document on Law 12 says that a player who uses excessive force "must be sent off".
I don't think that Nani helped his cause either by rolling around on the ground; maybe feigning injury for almost three minutes, when it was obvious that Arbeloa had been hurt more badly and was winded.
Was the referee justified in his decision then? If the people who interpret these things have provided direction on the issue have said that the player must go, then the only conclusion I can come to is that he has acted directly as instructed to.
I personally think that the referee responded correctly. The only people who are kicking up a stink are Man United fans which is understandable because no-one likes to be on the end of a decision like this... even if the referee is right.