When Is a Foul Not a Foul?

Manchester Utd 1-2 Real Madrid (aggregate 2-3)

UEFA Champions League*, Old Trafford, 5/3/13

This game, of course, hinged on the sending off. Up to that point United had been marginally the better, certainly David De Gea in United’s goal had fewer saves to make. Actually, even afterwards Diego Lopez in Real’s goal made more saves but Real were in the lead by then and not pushing forward so much. They could even have afforded to lose a goal.

It looked to me like Nani had tried to get the ball, there was no intent to foul – but intent does not come into the law. As Roy Keane argued in the post match discussion Nani’s foot was raised, ergo it was dangerous, worthy of a red card.

This immediately invites a question.

Why, then, when a player takes down any high ball (or indeed executes a bicycle kick) is it not dangerous play? His foot is at least at chest height, as Nani’s was. Are such instances of control of a high ball now all to be banished? In which case Brian Prunty’s much You-Tubed (and sublime) opener for Dumbarton against Livingston a few weeks ago would have been chalked off as dangerous. Should it also have been accorded a red card?

The only difference is the possible nearby presence of another player. But Nani wasn’t aware (till too late) there was a player coming in, he was looking at the flight of the ball. Roy Keane suggested he should be alive to such a possibility, he must expect a challenge. This, though, would also apply to any attempt to play a high ball as above.

Surely, equally, a player is entitled to attempt to control, or pass, the ball in the most effective way?

Nani’s control of the ball arguably wasn’t dangerous or reckless in itself. What may have made it so was the incoming player.

The thing is; it also looked to me like the Real player was never likely to get to the ball first. He was aware of what Nani might attempt to do and yet still came in to make contact with Nani’s foot after Nani had played the ball. In other words the Real player came in late. If Nani had played the ball on the ground and then been impacted the foul would have gone the other way for a late challenge. So who was in the wrong? From one point of view the Real player deliberately ran into a foot he knew was going to be high in order to make it look like dangerous play. In other words he bought the red card. Which is a form of cheating.

The ref and assistants have only real time to make decisions. They do not have the benefit of replays. But even in real time Nani’s high foot did not seem to me to be a sending off offence. But can anyone else be entirely sure what went into the ref’s decision making processes?

Whatever the rights and wrongs of this we will never know what would have happened if the red card had not been issued. Real might have scored twice anyway. But United might also have scored again, they made chances even with ten men.

Given the stories floating around about match-fixing there is now an element of doubt about such high profile matches. (And possibly low profile ones as well.) It is unfortunate that a refereeing decision appeared to be central to the outcome of this game.

In an unrelated point I thought that Ronaldo might have been just offside when the cross was hit in for Real’s second goal in that a scoring part of his body was beyond the last defender. None of the replays focused on this and it was given no analysis. Strange that.

* so-called

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  1. neilwilliamson

    Totally agree with you, Jack. It was neither a tackle on another player nor a challenge for the ball. He got to it first, so the Real player should have let him bring it down before making his challenge.

    Some of the stuff people get booked for these days continues to amaze me.

  2. GordyBrow

    I read the game and incidents a little differently. I’ll spare you my tactical analysis of why I thought Real were on top though.

    Undoubtedly the match hinged on the sending off. I wasn’t expecting a red, but I was hardly surprised either. From the angles I’ve seen Nani doesn’t control the ball, but instead the Real Madrid player controls the ball using his chest. That he got there with his chest and isn’t going in leg outstretched suggests he was always the more likely player to get the ball. Thus by going in leg high, outstretched and studs showing Nani was behaving recklessly. If you raise your foot without an awareness of who is around you on the field of play you are always behaving recklessly. In the case of Prunty’s overhead kick he is aware (from looking) that he has enough space to execute the move safely. I’ve seen countless similar overhead kicks ruled out when a defender has been challenging for the ball with their head. The key thing is that if you are challenging for a high ball it surely has to be your responsibility to ensure you are doing so safely.

    Maybe I’m just a soft youngster though?

  3. jackdeighton

    Real definitely had more possession but hadn’t penetrated up to that point. They might well have later even so.
    I’ve had the benefit of more replays and more angles now and I may have been harsh to the Real player who wasn’t as late as I thought at first.
    Nani could have looked round I suppose but I think he thought he didn’t need to as he thought he was going to be unchallenged.
    Studs up in Europe is maybe asking for it.

  4. jackdeighton

    I’ve seen several different angles now and, from some, the Real player appears to get there at about the same time as Nani. Depends where the ref and his assistants were I suppose.
    I don’t think Nani thought he was being reckless. (I don’t think he thought a challenge was coming in and would thus believe he had time.) But maybe he should have looked round and hurried up a bit.

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