Referee Cuneyt Cakir found himself embroiled in controversy after his decision to send off Manchester United midfielder Nani for a high boot to the side of Real Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa. In fact, so distraught was Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson that he skipped the required post-match press conference.
I find it quite helpful in these situations to go back to the basics and ask: What do the Laws of the Game say? We’ll review the incident step-by-step, and then I’ll share my opinion.
|Case Study #||9-2013|
|Date||5 March 2013|
|Competition||UEFA Champions League|
|Fixture/Result||Man Utd 1 – 2 Real Madrid|
|Referee/Badge||Cuneyt Cakir (TUR), FIFA, UEFA Elite Group|
|At Issue||Was the referee’s decision to send off Man Utd’s Nani in the 55th minute correct?|
The first decision to be made is whether or not there is a foul. On this point, surely we can all agree that Nani is guilty of kicking an opponent.
While this match was contested under the authority of UEFA, the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” is still instructive. In section 12.1, “What Is A Foul?”, the publication notes the following:
[box]Except for a handling offense, it is not necessary for the player’s action to be considered “deliberate” in the sense that the player intentionally set out to kick, push, trip, hold or otherwise foul the opponent. If that were so, the referee would have to be capable of reading a player’s mind. Under Law 12, the referee makes a decision based upon what he or she sees a player actually do—the result of the player’s action—not upon what might be in the player’s mind.[/box]
In the media, we’ve heard a lot about how “Nani is clearly watching the ball”. What bearing should this have on our evaluation of the possibility of misconduct? Based on the guidelines from USSF referenced above, it is clear that the fact that Nani was “watching the ball” is not a factor that should be considered. Furthermore, it is clear that Arbeloa is also watching the ball. Since Arbeloa was watching the ball and Nani was watching the ball, does this mean that the mutual ball-watching cancels each other out?
Keeping this in mind, we must next evaluate whether the player is guilty of any misconduct. The criteria we use to evaluate whether a foul also includes misconduct are deciding if the foul was careless, reckless, or used excessive force.
[box]“Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.
• No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
“Reckless” means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.
• A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned
“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.
• A player who uses excessive force must be sent off
Source: “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees”, page 111, FIFA, 2012.[/box]
I believe we can safely remove “careless” as a potential option here, leaving us to determine whether the foul was reckless or involved excessive force. A significant distinction between “reckless” and “using excessive force” is that the latter states that the offender is “in danger of injuring his opponent.”
A studs up challenge at the height and force applied by Nani in this case clearly presents the danger of injury to his opponent. Damage to internal organs would not have been out of the question in this case.
Based on a clear headed analysis of the facts and the guidelines issued by FIFA, I believe a send off decision is supported by the Laws of the Game.
I understand why so many English fans are upset at the decision. The English game is well known for being physical (“no blood = no foul”) and I believe that the same incident in a domestic competition could likely have been sanctioned with a caution. But, the notion that Nani had his eyes on the ball and therefore cannot be guilty of serious foul play has no basis in the LOTG. Keeping eyes on the ball only speaks to the intent of the player (he was watching the ball, therefore he intended to play it, not to hurt the player), and as we have been instructed, we are not to consider the intent of the player, only what they actually do.
Furthermore, this was not a domestic competition, but a UEFA competition, and so it should surprise no one that “continental” referees are likely to take a much dimmer view of this type of physical contact than their English counterparts.
In summary, I believe a strict interpretation of the LOTG supports the referee’s decision in this incident.