In the light of last night’s controversial events, it may be time to discuss the situation and refereeing as a whole.
For those living on the moon and not knowing what happened last night, Manchester United was leading 1-0 over Real Madrid in their UEFA Champions League last 16 match, until Nani booted Arbeloa in the chest, thus earning a red card which ultimately changed the course of the game.
Old Trafford was shocked, Sir Alex Ferguson went mad, but the damage was done and the game went in Real Madrid’s favour.
If you ask any Manchester United fan, they will tell you that Nani didn’t commit a foul or it was a yellow card decision at best. Real Madrid fans, obviously think that referee Cuneyt Cakir made the right decision.
According to the rules, he had every right to send the player off. Nani had his boot so high up that it was certainly dangerous play and it was a certain foul.
But in defence of Nani it should be said that the most important thing that merits a red card, malicious intent was missing in that situation.
Nani was trying to trap the ball mid-air and always had his eye on the ball. He just couldn’t see Real Madrid player coming. Once he saw Arbeloa, it was already too late to pull out of challenge. So when you take the context into consideration, maybe he should have been given a lesser punishment.
But one also has to acknowledge that while we can see the situation on the replay over and over again, the referees can’t.
So, Manchester United fans think the red card was harsh, while Real Madrid fans think it was justified. Had it been other way round (Madrid player sent off), the Madrid fans may have accepted that.
The reason for that is contrasting refereeing cultures. Everybody knows that British referees, like Howard Webb, let the game flow and brandish yellow cards only when really necessary. When possible, they try to keep their own influence on a game to a minimum. They try to keep the game even and usually avoid sending off people.
Continental referees, like Cuneyt Cakir follow the rulebook very strictly and punish the perpetrator immediately. The number of red cards shown in the Premier league is indeed lower than, for instance, in Spain. Also, the controversial situation in last night’s game was not dissimilar to one seen in the World Cup final, where Nigel de Jong planted his studs in the chest of Xabi Alonso. Howard Webb later admitted, that he should have sent de Jong off, but still, many football fans thought "that was just British refereeing“.
Even the most famous referee ever, Pierluigi Collina has said that he would referee a match between England and Scotland differently than a Serie A game, because the British fans and players wouldn’t stand frequent stoppages of fouls and bookings.
As the great man himself has said: „There is no type of refereeing that works well for all games. The referee has to develop an almost chameleon-like capacity to be able to adapt his own abilities to the requirements of the match. All matches are different and therefore they have to be dealt with in completely different ways“.
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