Manchester United Focus: What Exactly Encompasses a Red Card Offense?

Hemant Dua@hemant_duaCorrespondent IIMarch 7, 2013

Who saw this coming?
Who saw this coming?Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The furor just refuses to die down now, doesn't it?

A contentious decision on the part of referee Cuneyt Cakir contributed to Manchester United's downfall, as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday night.

The red card brandished to Nani by the Turkish official left Real with a numerical advantage for a good half an hour of football, and they made the best of it to oust United from the UEFA Champions League.

Well, if you didn't know it already, a sending-off can completely turn a game on it's head. That is precisely what happened at the Theatre of Dreams earlier this week.

Over the years, we've seen some cases of questionable judgement at highly decisive moments in Europe's elite club competition. Who can possibly forget the freak decision of Swiss ref Massimo Busacca to give Robin van Persie, then of Arsenal, his marching orders a couple of years back against Barcelona at the Round of 16 stage?

All this got me thinking. In the domain of football, what exactly encompasses a red card offense? That's an intriguing question now, isn't it?

Let's take the case of a straight red. For starters, there should be malice and intent to injure or harm a player.

I suppose even a man not well-versed with the laws of the game would be able to tell you that.

Well, what do the FIFA codes reveal on this subject?

According to Law 12 - fouls and misconduct, as stipulated by FIFA on their official website, committing any of the following seven offenses warrants a sending-off:

  • serious foul play
  • violent conduct
  • spitting at an opponent or any other person
  • denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
  • denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
  • using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
  • receiving a second caution in the same match

Now, the intent of the player, stature of the match and the juncture in the game are influential factors as well. Rules are, indeed, slightly different in theory than in practice. I'm not trying to defend or stand up for anybody. I say this based on observation over the years.

The peculiar case of Luis Nani

Nani has every right to feel hard done by. The Portuguese winger tried to use his outstretched right foot to control an aerial ball and accidentally landed a boot to the chest of the onrushing Alvaro Arbeloa. In fact, he didn't even know there was a man behind him. There were no sinister intentions.

Let's sort out the facts, shall we? There was a high foot, the studs were showing, and one cannot possibly deny that it was dangerous play. Of course Nani was at fault. The key the question is: what did he deserve?

Various football pundits have different takes on it.

Roy Keane and Graham Poll both maintain that Cakir got his decision spot on. I politely beg to differ.

Keane's main point was based on his belief that player intent isn't a factor. Strict preachers of the FIFA rulebook would probably concur. He was quoted by The Telegraph as saying:

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?

While Roy did make some solid points, I can't say I'm fully convinced.

Meanwhile, Gary Neville pointed out that going by Keane's logic, even Diego Lopez should have been in trouble for his attempted punch which landed on Nemanja Vidic's head rather than on the ball.

Gary's thoughts on the subject were as follows:

Nani is a player who regularly tries to control a pass like this over his shoulder and its never a red card! Changed the whole game!Poor ref.

The Madrid keeper on Vidic looked a similar type of incident.

Well, of course, what Lopez did can just as easily be classified as conduct that puts another player at risk. I'm not siding with Nani, but we've seen notorious players escape with cautions in the past for arguably much worse.

Bleacher Report World Football Lead Writer Will Tidey believes that Nani's challenge was at worst reckless, since it had not been executed with "excessive force."

My verdict on the Nani red: Worthy of at least a caution. The red card, in retrospect, was harsh, but not completely out of question. Perhaps the reason there has been such an uproar is because United were the more deserving side on the balance of play, on the day.

The fact of the matter is, sometimes luck shines on you, sometimes it doesn't.


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