The Rational Ref

Referee Cuneyt Cakir's red card on Nani justified under match rules

Turkish referee's decision could have been red or yellow - but the bottom line is Uefa have final say in Champions League

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 March, 2013, 4:11am

Silence is golden. For once, Alex Ferguson was apparently so distraught, disgusted and dumbfounded he was unable to speak publicly to the world's media.

Manchester United were eliminated by Real Madrid in the Champions League and the knives were out for Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir after his match-changing decision to send off Nani in the 56th minute.

For simply doing his job, 36-year-old Cakir has received much venom and vitriol, including death threats. Cruel condemnation and cutting criticism in castigating Cakir for being a Turk, a non-professional referee, and an insurance agent with implications he is a scoundrel salesman are all clearly ad hominem attacks.

Many within the soccer community, particularly United fans, seem to take things personally, as if something genuinely tragic has occurred. All that happened is one team lost and the other won. Life goes on, we pick ourselves up and we get on with our lives.

Why should anyone care that Cakir heralds from Istanbul, is a part-time match official and has a full-time job in insurance? These personal statements - which are all true - have no bearing on his integrity and performance as an elite-category Fifa referee. If people want to question his decision, they should do so constructively and rationally. Here's how Rational Ref sees it.

Cakir sent off Nani for serious foul play, which means a player is dismissed for using "excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play". The laws further state: "A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play."

Following these laws to the letter, it is easy for everyone to understand why Cakir was not wrong to send off Nani. Cakir's view is Nani endangered the safety of his opponent.

However, the week before in the English Premier League, Stoke's Peter Crouch launched into an overhead kick and connected flush with Matt Taylor's face, appearing to knock him out for a few seconds. Referee Jon Moss awarded a free kick to West Ham and did not even caution Crouch.

This scenario fits the criteria of serious foul play because the offender endangered the safety of his opponent. But Crouch's action had no malice or any intent to injure. Plus players react to and accept overhead kicks knowing some will be spectacularly successful, some will fail forlornly, and some will cause injury.

Now, consider the wording to describe a reckless challenge. "Reckless" is defined as a player who 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."

It is these two definitions - one for a sending-off, the other for a caution - that appear to be at odds with each other. For overhead kicks, players intuitively know it is reckless because there is no intent to kick an opponent, only a complete disregard to, since the offender does not look at his opponent before executing the kick.

Now consider Nani's challenge. Did he intend to kick Arbeloa with his studs exposed and was he looking at him? Also, the reactions of the players told us that, at most, it was a reckless challenge. Had Cakir cautioned Nani for being reckless, he would not have been wrong.

The problem lies with the laws and the way different competition organisers interpret them. The argument that "Nani deserves a red card on the continent and only a caution in England" is ignorant.

We can see from the reaction of Real Madrid's players that in Spain Nani would not have expected to be sent off either. The respective FAs in England, Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands would likely interpret Nani's challenge as reckless.

But Uefa is the competition organiser of the Champions League. Its referees committee, headed by Pierluigi Collina, manages its interpretation of the laws and relies on top Fifa match officials from Europe to implement them publicly.

This season Uefa's referees committee has apparently focused on incidents of serious foul play. But during last summer's Euro 2012, Collina's committee focused on man management and preferred its referees not to hand out early cards. Every time a major competition begins, the referees committee will usually focus on some aspects of the laws to interpret, just to demonstrate they are being useful.

Finally, Cakir had a further incentive to exhibit boldness and send off Nani at Old Trafford. He knew Collina was assessing him, probably with May's Wembley final in mind. And like Ferguson, Collina's golden silence speaks volumes.