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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 14 April 2021
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Opinion: Roy Keane was absolutely right – the Nani sending off was deserved

We assess the controversial decision that even referees are disagreeing over.

Manchester United's Nani is sent off after receiving a red card from referee Cuneyt Cakir.
Manchester United's Nani is sent off after receiving a red card from referee Cuneyt Cakir.

FOLLOWING LAST NIGHT’S match between Manchester United and Real Madrid, there was one moment that dominated the thoughts of every football fan, pundit and player involved.

The moment in question constituted a cruel blow to a Manchester United team that had operated with the utmost level of efficiency until then, establishing a one-goal lead against their illustrious opponents.

And while the incident was much-discussed, most notably by Roy Keane in the ITV studio, there was no real consensus on the issue.

The level of debate it prompted was epitomised by the fact that even two people with experience of officiating big games – Graham Poll and Dermot Gallagher – were somewhat at odds over whether Cuneyt Cakir was correct in sending off Luis Nani in the 56th minute – a pivotal decision that turned the match in Madrid’s favour ultimately.

Writing for the Daily Mail, Poll suggested he could understand why the decision was implemented. Gallagher, on the other hand, appeared to be completely flabbergasted by the red card, telling the BBC: “I cannot see what stretch of the imagination where I would have sent Nani off for that.”

Of the two though, Gallagher’s comments seem the more unreasonable. Even if he didn’t agree that it was a sending off, he should surely acknowledge that player safety is now paramount in the game – a fact that presumably led the referee to take such an unexpected action.

One person, for whom there was no ambiguity of the challenge’s severity though, was Roy Keane. The former Ireland international rubbished the notion that Nani should have been let off because his foul was unintentional, telling fellow ITV pundit Gareth Southgate:

“You’re saying he wasn’t aware of the player – you have to be aware of other footballers on the pitch. Does he think he’s going to have 20 yards to himself?”

And surely, in this instance, Keane has a point. After all, players are often sent off for flailing elbows, regardless of whether or not they’re deliberate. So why should this case be any different?

Replays suggest Nani probably was going for the ball, and that there was no malice meant, but the same can be said for many red cards in football – a bad challenge does not have to be premeditated in order for it to warrant a red.

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Conversely, the English referee Howard Webb was widely condemned for not sending off Nigel De Jong for an overly robust challenge on Xabi Alonso during the 2010 World Cup final. Even Webb, with the benefit of hindsight, admitted he was wrong not to dismiss the Dutchman at the time. It was another incident where it could be argued that there was no intent, but most people agreed that the sheer danger of the act in itself was enough to merit a sending off.

Granted, Nani’s kick was different to De Jong’s – it undoubtedly did not inflict the same level of pain as the Dutchman’s infringement resulted in. However, the two incidents were, at the very least, equally clumsy and avoidable.

Players should know by now that leaping off the ground with one foot raised, when unaware of who is in the vicinity, is endangering your opponent. In those situations, winning the ball should always be of secondary concern to the welfare of the opposition player. The type of flying kicks executed by De Jong and Nani can result in serious injury – so, it is essential that the referees do everything in their power to stamp them out of the game.

Accordingly, it is the referee’s responsibility to protect the players first and foremost in every way possible. By taking such a harsh-but-necessary action, Cakir has ensured that such incidents will take place less frequently, and that the sport will be safer to play as a whole. More often now, footballers will think twice before opting to jump recklessly with their feet high in the air, when unaware even of their basic surroundings, potentially causing serious harm in the process.

Therefore, any suggestion that the referee somehow favoured Madrid is purely wishful thinking on the part of United advocates. Indeed, he awarded a number of contentious incidents in the home club’s favour, both before and after the Nani incident, so such theories bear little credibility.

Instead of judging Cakir with unwarranted scorn, United fans should instead acknowledge that the majority of the blame for their loss lies with two Portuguese wingers – Nani, for his naive, senseless and impulsive offence, and Cristiano Ronaldo, for once again proving the match winner, popping up at the optimal moment, as he invariably does. Of the latter incident at least, there is a genuine consensus.

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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