by Kevin Henning
“These things happen in the modern game. The referee has to make a decision and the breaks even themselves out over a season.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.
The above quotation is the Manchester United manager’s own interpretation of the age old cliche which states that you win some, you lose some. That’s it’s swings and roundabouts. It seems to be the phrase of choice from any manager whose side have just had a decision go in their favour. It suggests that if you are unlucky one week, you may stand to benefit from the hand of Lady Luck the next. It’s the get out of jail card when you know your opponents have been “done”.
The difference in some cases though, is that when you seem to enjoy the benefit of all doubts consistantly, Lady Luck slaps you right across the face rather than her usual caress. Last night,
Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha AKA Nani, felt her hand grab him by the throat and choke the life out of United’s Champions League hopes for another season.
The media reaction has been overwhelming. From the moment the final whistle went at Old Trafford, we’ve witnessed a tidal wave of shock and horror from people who really should engage their brains before offering messages of condolence over what was, in all honesty, a very understandable refereeing decision.
It started immediately. Self confessed United supporter Clive Tyldsley was audibly outraged by the red card, Andy Townsend continued with the misplaced shock while over on SKY, Niall Quinn betrayed his blue past by droning on for the remainder of the game. While they all wallowed in woe, they failed to realise that United were still 2-1 up on aggregate and had their manager paid more attention to his team’s tactics and less time bending the ear of the fourth official, United could still have battled their way to the quarter finals with a similar performance to that of Chelsea who laughed in the face of John Terry’s dismissal against Barcelona last season. I accept that the two scenario’s were different. Chelsea lost their captain that night. Whilst losing. In the Nou Camp. With more than half of the match still to play.
Adrian Chiles, resplendent in his neutral red tie, whipped out a copy of the game’s rulebook regarding dangerous play after the match and the all round dismay was only interrupted by Roy Keane of all people, who correctly stated that Nani’s challenge was reckless.
During the mourning after the night before, the great and good of Manchester United have been wheeled out one by one to tell us all how unfair it all is. Crerand, Pallister, Robson, Holmes, Irani, they’ve all had their say. Even little Michael Owen, who one can’t help but ponder that if he spent less time carrying out his role as self appointed United spokesman and more getting himself fit, would be able to comment on his employers Stoke City’s matches.
Let’s rewind though. Look at the incident again. Was it such a shocking decision? Nani leapt through the air with studs showing at about six feet from the turf resulting in Madrid defender Arbeloa recieving a kick in the ribs. The case for the defence seems to be that Nani didn’t know Arbeloa was there. If I close my eyes and windmill my way down Deansgate tomorrow, is it my fault if somebody recieves a punch or will I be excused because I wasn’t aware of their presence?
I’ve left the Rafael handball on the goal-line, Van Persie’s offside position in the lead up to United’s goal, Nani’s sly little kick upon contact with Arbeloa, the lack of a red card for Rio Ferdinand and Alex Ferguson’s “You’re a cheat” accusation at the ref because I wouldn’t like to be the only person to mention it amongst the believers that the Turkish referee had an agenda to eliminate United from the competition.
And now let’s rewind further. Is this the same Nani who saw an opponent dismissed for a sliding tackle despite their being no physical contact in a certain FA Cup tie last season? Or the same Nani whose handball and subsequent goal, encouraged by the referee’s nod of approval
robbed Tottenham Hotspur of a result the season before? Coincedentally, that Spurs team contained one Luca Modric, scorer of Madrid’s sublime equaliser on Wednesday night.
Maybe Lady Luck had no part in last night’s proceedings. Her ticket for the “Perfect Match” was flogged on the black market outside the
Theatre of Dreams to another female we hear mentioned at times like this. Her name is Karma and she’s a right bitch.