Fair or foul? The debate on this refereeing decision will likely never be decided.
Tuesday’s highly anticipated Champions League clash quickly degenerated into despair and outrage for Manchester United and their global following after midfielder Nani was shown a surprise red card by referee Cuneyt Cakir of Turkey.
The Red Devils had a 1-0 lead, after a 46th minute own goal off the ankle of Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, and were on the verge of cruising into the quarter-finals.
That is until a poorly timed and unexpected high boot to ribs of Alvaro Arbeloa by the Portuguese international in the 56th minute led to Nani’s expulsion.
Arbeloa and Nani both lay on the ground for an extended period following the collision as a definite hush of anticipation fell over Old Trafford.
But few would have predicted that just a few moments later, when both players got to their feet, Cakir would reach into his pocket and produce a red card for Nani.
Television replays clearly show Nani’s foot was raised and his cleats exposed on the foul.
Other angles also reveal that Arbeloa may have played up the foul overemphasizing the contact, and rolling a few times for good measure when he hit the ground.
Right or wrong, Cakir’s decision instantly changed the entire face of the match, sucking the life out of a stunned Manchester United side while allowing the Spanish giants from Madrid to quickly capitalize.
Just ten minutes later Ronaldo and Luca Modric struck for two quick goals sending Real Madrid on the way to shock 2-1 victory.
One 18-year-old fan in Nottingamshire, England was so excited about the incident he even went so far as to dial 9-1-1 (or 999) to report a crime.
Meanwhile a bizarre mock interview with Cikar began to go viral on the internet in the hours following the incident.
Not everyone in the soccer world disagreed with Cikar’s decision to eject Nani.
Former Red Devils midfielder Roy Keane says he agreed with the decision to dismiss Nani.
“I think it is the right decision, ” said Keane. “It is irrelevant if Nani meant to do it. He should have been aware of the players around him. Does he think he will have 20 yards to himself. ”
However, English television match commentators were quick to jump on the decision during their live broadcast calling it “perplexing” and also implying that Cakir had a pro Real Madrid “agenda” in the match and also tastelessly declaring there would be “no Turkish delight” for the Red Devils.
Former Manchester United legend Paddy Crerand slammed Keane for his position on Cikar’s decision.
Former West Ham and Ispswich goalkeeper Craig Forrest, now a commentator for Canadian sports broadcaster Sportsnet, was quick to express his disappointment with the call immediately following the conclusion of the match.
“Regardless of whether you are a Real Madrid or Manchester United fan it was ruined as a spectacle because of the referee’s decision,” Forrest said. “You wanted to see 11 vs 11 because this matchup was so enthralling. You have to apply the rules of the game for sure but as a referee you have to have a feel for it and there was nothing about that play that seemed to warrant a red card and there wasn`t any intent to hurt anybody – it was a poor all around call and it changed the whole game.”
A poll by online news site The Independent reported on Wednesday that an online survey of 13,500 readers saw 56 per cent of them vote in favour of Cikar’s decision.
Former EPL referee Graham Poll had an interesting take on the controversy. Poll says that in certain parts of the world, like England, the foul would have been nothing more than a yellow card but to others this would be an automatic red.
“So by an English standard this was a foul, but per the rest of the world — or at least Europe — this was a red card…”, wrote Poll.
After the final whistle, a crowd of Manchester United players including Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdidand, Ashley Young and Ryan Giggs crowded around Cakir to voice their displeasure at his controversial decision before they were eventually separated by security staff.
Ferdinand could face punishment for his behaviour as he could clearly be seen making a a highly aggressive large swooping clapping gesture right in the face of Cakir.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Feguson skipped the post match press conference and on Wednesday UEFA announced Ferguson will have a disciplinary hearing over the matter on March 21st. Ferguson likely faces a small fine.
Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho was diplomatic about their victory during his postmatch interview stating “Independent of the decision, the best team lost. We didn’t deserve to win but football is like this sometimes.”