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THE GREAT MANCHESTER UNITED RED CARD CONTROVERSY DEBATED
Betfair: 6 March 2013

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. (c) The Sporting Exchange Limited.

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There's one huge talking point in the world of football this morning. Was Nani right to be sent off at Old Trafford last night? Two Betfair heavyweights pull no punches in giving opposing views...

No, says James Sutton

I'll start by causing a stir in saying Alvaro Arbeloa was the more "reckless" of the two, but more on that later.

Like the rest of the footballing world, my immediate reaction when the referee pulled out the red card last night was one of complete and utter shock. It led to me tweeting, which of course is a huge overreaction; it was "the worst decision I have ever seen from a referee".

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After the initial stage of shock my opinion on the matter has not really changed as a whole, although as the blood pressure has slowly returned to its normal level the adjectives used to describe the decision have diluted somewhat.

As Nani was trying to buy himself some time by rolling around on the floor after the incident, he was doing what all players do and hoping to delay the inevitable yellow card. Not at one point did it cross his mind, or anyone else's in the ground or watching around the world for that matter, that he would be arising to a card of the red variety. And I think that is a good indicator as to whether a challenge was 'careless', 'reckless' or 'using excessive force', which is how the referee should make his decision according to the official rule book.

In my opinion, Nani's challenge (if it can even be called that as he was simply trying to control the ball) was nothing more than 'careless'. His eyes were on the ball for the entirety of the event, and if you watch closely, the ball even touches his foot - something I know Mike Norman disagrees with - before he connects with the unfortunately onrushing Arbeloa. According to the laws of the game, my interpretation of the 'coming together' would have resulted in Nani not even receiving a booking for his actions, and in fact that was my initial reaction as soon as the incident had taken place.

I am going to take this a step further and perhaps even flutter with controversy. If anything, the Real Madrid right back was being the more 'reckless' of the two players as he was charging in at full pace to a player who was concentrating on controlling the ball on the turn. But then again maybe that is just me trying to spark debate.

The laws of the game are there for all to see but at the end of the day it is down to the opinion of the official as to how they interpret those laws. For me what made the decision even more dumbfounding is that the referee rightly gave himself time to think about what he was about to do, before still giving a completely flawed opinion on the matter.

Yes, says Mike Norman

I have sympathy for Nani, I really do. As a football fan, and as someone who loves to see crunching tackles with the intention clearly to win the ball, then I agree the United man's challenge was a yellow card at worst. And I think we're all agreed on that.

But unfortunately the football fan doesn't make the decision. That is left to the referee, and his job - whether we like it or not - is to adhere to the laws of the game. And on that basis, referee Cüneyt Çakır was fully entitled to show Nani a red card. It was a high and dangerous challenge that put an opposing player at risk of being injured, all of which are deemed as serious foul play and are punished by a sending off.

That's not my rule, it's a rule of the game.

It matters not a jot that Nani had no intention of colliding with Arbeloa. Very few footballers leave the ground with two feet intending to miss the ball and instead collide with an opponent, yet a two-footed challenge is also deemed as serious foul play, intentional or not. The Nani challenge was no different in that regard.

There are also two more aspects to this challenge that fully support Çakır's decision to show red. First, at the moment of contact both Nani's feet were off the ground, his trailing foot being approximately 12 inches above the turf. In such situations players are deemed to be not in control, hence the dangerous play aspect.

And secondly, Arbeloa - only by a split second - got to the ball before Nani, chesting it into another direction. Doesn't that make Nani's challenge late, as well as being high, dangerous, and two feet of the ground?

Nani may have had his eyes on the ball at all times, but he knew a player was rushing in otherwise why would he have left the ground to try and control the ball from a height, with an out-stretched leg, when it's much easier to control the ball at pitch level?

His desire to win the ball was there for all to see, and he had no intention of colliding with Arbeloa, but the simple facts are that he did leave the ground, his foot was high, he did connect with an opponent, and the referee correctly deemed it as dangerous play.

I'm not sure if you're allowed to appeal a red card in the Champions League at this stage of the competition, but even if allowed I am certain Manchester United won't go down that route. Why, because once the dust has settled this morning, they will realise that the referee was fully in his rights to show a red card by the letter of the law. And if they realise he was fully in his rights this morning, then they should realise that he was fully in his rights at the time he pulled out the red card.


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