Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Night At The Opera

Grand larceny may have long been abolished as a crime in the UK, but it appears everyone associated with Manchester United not only want it restored, but the penalty increased to hanging. A quick trawl through the murky depths of the BBC comments section revealed one particular fan urging his fellow aggrieved to make referee Cuneyt Cakir's life a misery forever and ever more.

For anyone who blacked out around 7.30 last night from the all the pre-match excitement, here is an action replay of the incident in question, where United's Portugese winger Nani stuck a few studs in Alvaro Arbeloa:

While obviously a red card seems a harsh decision, and a yellow would normally suffice in the Premier League, we have to remember the context.

European referees have always been somewhat stricter, when it comes to applying the rules to the very letter. And the English myth of decisions never going the way of the visitors at Old Trafford can be put to bed, as United are just another quite big fish in a pond full of them - few bigger than Real Madrid.

My own take on the situation - the ball was not in a dangerous area of the pitch and there was no need for Nani's boot to be that high. He didn't get the ball and his studs made contact with the opponent. As soon as your studs start showing in a key European encounter such as this, you are asking for trouble. Man United can consider themselves unlucky to be out - the ten minutes after the sending off are when they were cut open with the most ease.

BUT. The vitriol that has poured from the United camp since smacks of bad sportsmanship. Rio Ferdinand's aggressive clapping in the face of the officials at the final whistle flies in the face of the 'Respect' campaign. Yes, emotions run high in such a scenario.. but I wonder whether he even saw the incident.

Despite all I have written, would I give a red card for the tackle? The answer would be no, but I could understand why a red was given. Cakir was a very brave man. It was hardly in the league of incorrectly disallowed goals, or a missed offside. No mistakes were made. It is a matter of interpretation, and I have seen far more clear-cut decisions. I guess the only difference is that ITV's beloved Manchester United have been knocked out as a result, and 'that night in Barcelona' can no longer be wheeled out.

Roy Keane may have been looking for a fight in the ITV studios, and looked ready to spontaneously combust if anyone dared to question his opinion in the wake of the match, but he had a point. In no way was it a definite red as he claimed, but the challenge could certainly be deemed to be dangerous within reason. It is not the outrageous miscarriage of justice that the Old Trafford PR machine would like us to believe.

It could even be argued that the controversial decisions were evened out five minutes later. Rafael's clearance against Varane's header had more than a hint of handball about it. Sure, it maybe wasn't intentional, but it stopped a goal, and his arm shouldn't have been in that position. Had that penalty been given, it would've been a certain red card.

On to the action itself, and it is hard to escape the suspicion that the red card changed the game. Man United were containing Madrid quite professionally, but Jose Mourinho earnt his stripes by sending on Modric in place of Arbeloa. He may even have been trying to spare Arbeloa a possible retribution tackle. Whatever the logic behind the decision, Modric's equalizer was wonderful.

With ten men, United looked all at sea - unable to cope with Real attacks. Ronaldo's winner was as inevitable as Fergie sending Rooney on to try and rescue the game - which he couldn't do.

The wait to replicate that fantastic 1999 treble will go on then - as will United's season. Ironically, their European exit may have been the final nail in the coffin of City's own title chances. Fergie's boys were already coping quite well with the rotation required to juggle Europe and the league. Now they can take it easy, with no unwelcome long trips away.

That will be of no consolation to the Old Trafford thousands who trudged away dripping with despair and hurt. As far as the playing staff goes, any burning injustice they feel would do well to go into next season's campaign. Fergie's team talks will be easy next season - 'You should have gone on to win last year, make sure of it yourself this time around.' For now though, it's all a bit sour grapes.

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