Manchester United vs. Real Madrid: Nani Red Card Shows Need for Replay in Soccer

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IIMarch 5, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 05:  Ryan Giggs of Manchester United reacts after Nani is sent off during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Second leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford on March 5, 2013 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

Referee Cuneyt Cakir completely altered the Champions League clash between Manchester United and Real Madrid when he controversially showed a red card to United’s Nani early in the second half. This would not have happened if FIFA, UEFA and all the other governing bodies in soccer had accepted that video replay is a necessary part of modern athletics. 

It is entirely possible that Madrid would have eliminated the Red Devils if the two teams had 11 players until the final whistle, but Nani’s sending off undoubtedly changed the way to match was played for the final half-hour.

This is not the first time a controversial call changed an important match between two massive clubs, and it certainly will not be the last.

The play that is attracting so much attention came in the 56th minute when United held a 1-0 lead. Nani leaped and lifted his leg in an attempt to control the ball, but his foot caught Madrid right-back Alvaro Arebloa’s midsection. 

Those in disagreement with the decision believe that Nani’s cleat was in a position that caused so much danger for the opponent that the referee had no choice but to send him off. Those on other side of the coin feel that it was a careless challenge, but Nani never had intent to injure Arbeloa. The Independent’s Sam Wallace broke down the call: 

Great officials maintain control of the match while attracting as little attention as possible. When faced with a situation in which a player may be sent off, the referee must be absolutely certain that he is not changing the match due to an incorrect decision.

Given the speed of the game, this is often impossible. Referees need the opportunity to take a second look at plays such as the one that resulted in Nani’s red card. The NBA gives its officials a chance to look at a foul before designating it as a “Flagrant 2,” which results in an ejection.

There is no reason soccer cannot implement video replay, not just to review whether or not the ball crossed the goal-line, but also for other calls. The decision whether or not to eject a player should certainly fall under the umbrella of decisions that must be corroborated with video evidence. 

The main argument against the use of replay is that soccer is a free-flowing game with a running clock, and the sport would suffer with added interruptions. But this ignores the fact that many of the plays that should be reviewed already cause the game to halt.

When Nani was whistled for a foul, the clock showed 55:10. When Mesut Ozil’s free kick finally resumed play, the clock showed 57.27.

2:17 went by as Nani and Arbeloa dusted themselves off. Sir Alex Ferguson sprinted to the touch line and started hollering, and the entire United side shared their opinions with the referee. 

Had Cakir been able to look at the play on the sidelines, he would have avoided the abuse he received following the call and likely would not have needed any more than three minutes to view the play in slow motion multiple times.

It is entirely possible that this would not have changed his mind, but he at least would have had the ability to be more confident in his decision. An extra 45 seconds to the interruption is undoubtedly worth giving the official an opportunity to get such a crucial call correct. 

Video replay is an accepted part of professional sports, and soccer is simply delaying the inevitable by refusing to implement the technology in some form for major competitions. Controversies like the one in Manchester can and should be avoided by simply giving referees a couple minutes to review major calls.