Did Old Trafford highlight how out of touch they are?
Well, well, well, even the staunchest members of the anti-Manchester United brigade will find it hard to deny that Sir Alex Ferguson’s men were a little unlucky against Real Madrid. Nani’s red card for a purely accidental offence swung the tie massively, all but ending the Red Devils’ hopes of keeping their aggregate lead against the reigning La Liga champions.
Naturally, criticism was levelled at referee Cuneyt Cakir following the final whistle. Although it was far from edifying to see Rio Ferdinand sarcastically applaud the Turkish official, it was easy to empathise with his frustration. Cakir had hugely dented United’s chances of making it to the quarter-finals of the biggest tournament in club football and knocking out, arguably, one of the best teams on the planet.
It was a saddening sight to see Nani trudge off after his boot has caught Alvaro Arbeloa, but such decisions are becoming part and parcel of football, with referees becoming more and more out of touch with top level football.
Maybe, Cakir’s angle on Nani’s attempt to control a high ball showed some signs of malice, however to almost everybody else watching in the stadium and on television it was simply an accident. Okay, it could be regarded as reckless, but a yellow card would have sufficed. Had Cakir dished out a caution there would be no ill feeling and the game could have continued as it should have. Maybe Real would have gone on to take the victory, but it would have been in far less controversial circumstances.
However, Cakir adopted a policy that any high boot, regardless of a genuine lack of malice is a red card. To the absolute letter of the law he could have a point. But, any footballer, or anybody who has been even in the remotest bit involved in the sport, will argue that Nani had every right to attempt to control the ball, and in doing so he had to raise his boot.
Cakir is far from inexperienced, having officiated nearly 200 matches, including some fierce contests between Fenerbahce and Galatasaray, showing that such problems are deeply embedded in the game. Some referees may not have dished out the punishment he opted for, but his level of experience shows that many perhaps would have.
So we are presented with a game where a purely accidental attempt for the ball with no desire to harm an opponent is punishable by dismissal. Not an ideal set of circumstances.
Although consistency is the ultimate target for referees, an application of common sense is what is needed. It’s impossible to achieve both regularly, but ultimately officials are there to judge. Cakir could have seen the incident as many others had, as a non-deliberate attempt for the ball. But, with high feet seen as a major offence his hands were tied to an extent. The Turk’s delay on the call may illustrate this, as he took the time to mull over his thoughts before making his judgement. He could have perhaps deemed it red straight off the bat, but elected to assess his options, or he could have realised that the decision had been made for him by the bureaucrats of football.
If referees are to be the all-powerful influence during a game, they need the freedom to act on their own initiative. Many times they have been seen to shrug their shoulders at players for high challenges as if to say ‘I don’t think it’s an offence, but the decision has been made for me.’
The only other solution is to head in the opposite direction, adopting a strict approach. With goal-line technology looking to be an eventuality, referees may find themselves assisted to a greater extent. Although video methods are initially going to be limited to goal or no goal decisions, it’s hard to see it staying that way. With every action now receiving mass scrutiny, calls for the assessment of tackles, offsides and perhaps even throw-ins will be made if technology proves to be a success.
It may make the sport a cold, clinical affair, but it would all but eradicate injustice. Referees could be deemed spectators, yet we would be unlikely to witness another Nani-gate episode.