Many English football fans probably woke up this morning hoping that the travesty that they had witnessed on Tuesday night really had been nothing more than a very bad dream. Unfortunately, Real Madrid’s 2-1 victory over Manchester United was all too real, no pun intended.
To my mind, one of the greatest travesties which can occur in any athletic competition is for a referee to insert himself into the flow of a game in such a manner as to effect its final outcome. I believe that the old adage regarding children would be more appropriate if it were applied to referees. That is: “Referees should be seen and not heard.”
The perfect athletic official is the one who is so efficient in the performance of his responsibilities that he is almost transparent to those playing and watching the game.
Unfortunately, officiating opaqueness trumped transparency in Manchester on Tuesday night.
Manchester United was playing Real Madrid in the second leg of a two-game series to determine which team would progress to the quarterfinals of the European Champions League, a football competition second only to the World Cup.
Manchester United was comfortably in control of the game, leading 1-0 early in the second half when United forward, Nani, raised his leg high into the air in an attempt to control a cross-field pass. At that same moment, a Real Madrid defender, similarly intent on gaining control of the ball, attempted the physical impossibility of occupying the same space as Nani’s right foot.
The collision of foot and torso resulted in the Real Madrid player writhing on the turf in faux agony, which is de rigueur in European football and which has been raised to an art form as practiced by most Spanish teams.
There was clearly no intent on Nani’s part to kick the Real Madrid defender. He probably didn’t even see the other player until the contact was made, but Cüneyt Çakır, the Turkish referee perceived things quite differently, giving Nani a red-card and a quick heave-ho straight to the showers.
After watching the play several times, I’d agree that an argument could be made for issuing Nani a yellow card, but there is absolutely no way that the contact justified the player’s ejection from the game.
Manchester United (and Fair Play) Nil – Intrusive Officiating 1
Red cards, or the ejection of a player from the game, don’t occur all that often in football (aka soccer or futbol), but I found it interesting to learn that Mr. Çakır has a history of red carding English football players, having ejected three in recent years. I was also surprised to learn that Çakır isn’t a professional official. He makes his living selling insurance in Istanbul; auto, home, and life, I suppose.
Hasn’t anyone learned the lessons so clearly taught by last season’s NFL substitute official fiasco!
In any event, Çakır’s decidedly inappropriate action had the immediate effect of reducing the Manchester side down to 10 players against Real Madrid’s 11. But beyond that, the entire complexion of the game changed. Çakır’s action completely unsettled Manchester United’s game plan, as well as their execution of it on the field. All of the air had well and truly come out of United’s balloon. Within a few minutes, Real Madrid was in the lead and would go on to win the game 2-1. They will now move on to the Champions League quarterfinals.
Not surprisingly, the Champions League governing body UEFA, completely supports the referee’s actions. No surprise there.
Meanwhile, English football fans are left pondering what might have been but for one part-time official’s penchant for flashing red cards.
Image from Telegraph.co.uk