The biggest talking point last week was without doubt the sending off of Nani of Manchester United in their Champions League match at Old Trafford, when they lost against Real Madrid knocking them out of the tournament. Many felt that 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. Although of course, other teams have managed to contain their opponents with only ten men, look at Chelsea is last year’s Champions’ League against Barcelona. 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 Marino, the Real manager who admitted that the best team lost. But more than that, he must have been hoping to match the former great Manchester United manager, Sir Mat 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 and no doubt hoping to bring it under control. However, also running toward the ball, on his blind side and seemingly unknown to him was Alvaro Arboloa the Real Madrid defender. The two players clashed and both went down with Arboloa 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 Arboloa high in his chest.
Dermot Gallaher, former FIFA referee has said that if you lift your feet high in European football then you risk being sent off but let’s just work through the law. There is no doubt that 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 Arboloa 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 ask himself, has there 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 then was the decision referee Cakir was faced with, did Nani use endanger Arbeloa’s safety when he kicked him in the chest. From his position on the field of play, he concluded that he did and therefore sent him off.