Manchester United vs. Real Madrid: Nani's Red Card His Own Fault

Neri SteinFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 05:  Referee Bahattin Duran sends off Nani of Manchester United during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford on March 5, 2013 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Jose Mourinho promised the "world would stop" when Real Madrid took on Manchester United at Old Trafford Tuesday. He probably didn't count on it stopping for this long. 

The second leg of the biggest Round of 16 tie in this year's Champions League was marred by the controversial sending off of United winger Nani in the 56th minute. United were leading the match 1-0 and the tie 2-1 at the time. 

Madrid ended up winning the match 2-1 (3-2 aggregate) thanks to a wicked shot from Luka Modric and a tap-in from Cristiano Ronaldo off an excellent cross from Gonzalo Higuain. Not thanks to the official, but thanks to lackadaisical defending by the Red Devils in crucial moments. 

But no one is talking about that today. Today, we're still on the Nani red card. Was it deserved or not?

Nani foolishly jumped and stuck his leg out chest high, just begging Alvaro Arbeloa to run into him. All of this for a ball about 40 yards away from goal, closer to the touchline than anything else. 

I know you're never supposed to the let the ball bounce, but that rule usually applies to defenders when the ball is hit over their head and a striker is right on their tails. 

Point is, Nani made a foolish decision and gave referee Cuneyt Cakir the opportunity to interpret the situation. Players do this all the time, and fans and managers fail to realize it. It's all on the official for ruining a great match. 

But officials can't ruin a match all on their own. They don't just make up situations or pretend a defender lunged in—intending to get the ball—and award a penalty and produce a red card. Or vice versa. 

UEFA has backed their official, and so has Manchester United legend (former?) Roy Keane. The always rebellious Irishman called Nani's foul "dangerous play" regardless of whether or not he meant it.

Most people were surprised at the decision and their biggest support was that Nani clearly had no intent to hurt Arbeloa. Firstly, "intent" makes no appearance in FIFA's Law 12. And it shouldn't. As Keane says, what Nani meant doesn't matter. We can never really know what he meant, but we'd all like to believe (and it's pretty obvious from his eyes watching the ball) he had no intention of hurting another player. 

Does anyone think Ryan Shawcross was intending to break Aaron Ramsey's leg (video of incident)? Not based on his emotions afterward. 

The official, the fans, managers, no one can ever know a player's intention. Period. 

Where the Nani incident comes in is whether or not you'd call Nani's foul "careless, reckless or using excessive force." Well, how FIFA expects their officials to differentiate between careless and reckless (careless does not need further punishment besides a foul given according to Law 12) is beyond me, but Nani's foul was at least both of those.

Nani's only intent was to win the ball, but he should've known better in that situation. It was a risky foul to make, especially considering the official at hand

There was nothing to come from winning that ball. And it most definitely wasn't worth kicking a leg up that high, no matter how the ball was bouncing. 

The "in real time, in the heat of the match" argument doesn't work here. There are few times when bringing a ball down by kicking your leg up that high is worth it, and this wasn't even close. 

Sir Alex Ferguson was so angered by the decision that he skipped the post-match press conference (and if Fergie skips a chance to criticize an official, we know it's a big deal), and fans claim the official ruined the match with his call. But that's letting the players off easy. 

Whether you agree with the call or not, it happened, and bad calls happen all the time. It's up the team at hand, in any game, to overcome them, whether it's a wrongful sending off or a clear penalty that was denied. 

Cakir did not tell the United defense to back off Modric at the edge of their box, and he didn't tell them to let Ronaldo sneak past the back line to tap in the winner. 

Sometimes, when the call is blatant, the blame is on the officials. They haven't done their jobs. But when the player leaves it up to the official in such a crucial moment, he needs to shoulder some of the burden.