As popular as Manchester United are around the world, the fact remains that—in the UK at least—the majority of people will have been happy to see them bow out of Europe at the second round. In fact, these same people are happy whenever United bow out of any contest for whatever reason. For some, last night will have been as fitting as can be.
Facing Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16, the United players were experiencing the rare sensation of being called the underdogs. The media had hyped this tie, and particularly this leg, to the hilt. So delicately balanced after the first meeting at the Santiago Bernabau, the fixture commanded the world's attention; Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Xabi Alonso and Robin van Persie all prowling the same stage with everything to win and so much to lose—a true battle of the titans.
That is, until the 57-minute mark had passed.
United had already caused their own controversy before kick-off with Ferguson’s decision to leave out Wayne Rooney for the inexperienced Danny Welbeck. Never mind the fall-out from the news—United’s game plan was working a treat.
Keeping Real Madrid at bay and hitting on the counter had resulted in a Sergio Ramos own-goal at 48 minutes. With Welbeck depriving Xabi Alonso of time to create in midfield and Ronaldo’s mind apparently elsewhere—while Madrid carried more of the ball—United’s momentum seemed to be carrying them through.
On 57 minutes, a United clearance looped in to the air, and under it waited the out-stretched foot of Luis Nani. Eyes on the ball and on the run, it looked like he would control it easily and move out on the counter. However, having his eyes on the ball appears to have been folly for the Portuguese winger.
Alvaro Arbeloa challenged for the ball, attempting to chest it down and in the process, catching himself on Nani’s exposed studs. From the replay it was clear that Nani’s focus was on the ball and therefore could not be classed as “reckless,” as the rules clearly state a foul must be to constitute a red card. That, and he appeared to make contact with the ball before Arbeloa. As we know, the referee brandished a red card, the game changed and United succumbed to two goals in four minutes that eventually cost them the tie.
Roy Keane was one of only a few pundits who deemed it worthy of a red; a strange stance going by the Irishman’s own disciplinary record involving far worse challenges. It appears Keano is trying to sever all ties with his former club’s fans.
But regardless of the truth in those theories, the issue is that had FIFA pulled themselves together at any point in their history, these bad decisions and conspiracy theories would not happened.
If Cuneyt Cakir had some sort of assistance, from either a video replay screen or a fourth official with a monitor, such conspiracies would never have to arise. You know, the same technology that is available to every household in the country, but not football stadiums.
Of course we’ve heard the back catalogue of reasons why it would be impractical. In December, UEFA president Michel Platini appeared to soften his hard stance against some technological assistance, such as concerning offsides, only in the same breath to reiterate why it wouldn’t work.
There is also Platini’s argument of it not being cost-effective. Not cost-effective? Rugby, cricket, tennis and many other sports employ cameras to help the officials; even without having any figures at hand, we can still imagine the huge difference in turnover when you pit football against any other sport. It seems that rather than this being a lack of money, it is a lack of willingness to spend it.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s recent U-turn is notable. Having once been of the opinion that technology could slow the game down, the spotlight was thrust upon Blatter in the aftermath of Frank Lampard’s “ghost goal” that ultimately resulted in England’s elimination from the 2010 World Cup. Blatter did not seem all that bothered by the complaints at the time, and the debate continued.
But at England’s next international tournament the same thing happened again, only this time it was in England’s favour, and led to Ukraine going out of the competition. The next day Blatter stated that technology “is no longer an alternative but a necessity” (via The Guardian)—the polar-opposite to the attitude he held in the wake of England’s elimination in South Africa.
It would be daring to claim that FIFA are anti-English, but there are several points to back it. In addition to the above, how about Blatter’s assertion that there should be an alternative to the “tragedy” (via BBC Sport) of penalty-shootouts. Strange, how for so many years there were no complaints, yet as soon as an English team—in this case Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final—beat a European team (Bayern Munich) in a shootout, it is apparently no longer a valid way to decide a match. I don’t approve of tribalism, but this is too much to ignore.
Regardless, whatever prejudices Blatter and Platini may have, it does not explain the lack of cohesion between their respective organisations.
Thankfully, the FA have seen fit to install goal-line technology in time for the 2013-14 season, and I hope other leagues will follow suit.
When Blatter announced, to many sighs of relief, that goal-line technology will be introduced for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it was good to see that he did so despite Platini’s view that it would be a “historical mistake” (via SportBusiness).
Good, but not great. Why is it that there is not one governing body that rules on all competitions? Why must there be FIFA and UEFA, rather than FIFA having a European sub-division that answers to the same people as the South American sub-divison and the Asian sub-division.
There are innumerable questions, many of which expose the failings of having different organisations being able to govern themselves. The most worrying for me is what will happen if Platini succeeds Blatter as FIFA president, which is more than likely to happen. Will he simply do away with all the cameras, sensors and microchips in favour of a more traditional (read: philistine) approach?
His claims that it could slow the game down are laughable; I imagine that a fourth official viewing a replay and speaking to the referee via earpiece would take far less time than an entire team surrounding and berating the officials for two minutes. At the very least, technology would reduce the amount of blame, and therefore abuse, that is directed at the on-pitch officials.
As for the fifth and sixth referees? Platini's faith was shown to be misguided when he praised the concept on the eve of the England vs. Ukraine game, in which the ball crossed the England goal-line but was not given as a goal.
The two main arguments are this: football is a human game run by humans that should allow for human error; and alternatively, if we have the technology to prevent mistakes and injustice being done, it is our duty to utilise it. Take your pick.
So how does this relate to last night’s match, and then to Manchester United’s supposed influence over officials?
If the referee had assistance from a monitor-watching fourth official, Nani wouldn’t have been sent off, the game would have been free from any controversy, and neither team could feel aggrieved. The referee didn’t ruin the game; the lack of help from his superiors did.
The same as, if other referees had assistance, other red cards and spurious goals would or wouldn’t have been given, leaving no reason for the fans to start spouting conspiracies. As fun as it might be, instead of blaming United’s apparent ability to get all the decisions, wouldn’t fans prefer football where there could be no room for those dodgy calls?
It doesn’t take much to see that the indecision of the very people who are supposed to serve and preserve football are what allows it to be brought into disrepute.