Wednesday, March 06, 2013
Red faces all round
I just couldn't get enough of Sky Sports News repeatedly showing the clip of an apoplectic SAF leaping (well, sort of leaping) from the exotically furnished home team dugout to protest at Nani's red card.
At first he seemed unable to decide in which direction he should explode. Like Dad's Army's Corporal Jones in full "Don't panic!" fluster, Fergie appeared to go this way and that, before an unfortunate camera angle (the camera being positioned on the other side of the Old Trafford pitch) caught sight of Mike Phelan with the outstretched arms of his boss emerging from behind him.
When Congreve wrote the oft-misquoted "...nor hell a fury like a woman scorned..." he clearly had no idea of what an enraged 71-year-old Scotsman could be capable of in unleashing such a flamethrower of bile about a refereeing decision that he could be left "too distraught" to speak to the media afterwards. "It's a distraught dressing room and a distraught manager. That's why I am sitting here now," explained Phelan in the post-match press conference, by way of some apology.
Well, we've all been there before, either through travesties of officiating calamity or literal applications of the law. Cast your mind back to the 2004-05 Champions League semi-final between Liverpool and Chelsea when the red team - managed by one Rafael Benitez - beat the blue team by a single goal. This was later described by the then-Chelsea boss, a certain Jose Mourinho, as a "ghost goal", on account of the fact that Luis Garcia's fourth minute strike didn't actually cross the Chelsea goal line, and that William Gallas - in a career-rare example of commitment - cleared it off the line.
Cast your mind back, as well, to the 2008-2009 Champions League semi-final between, yes, Chelsea and Barcelona, during which the hapless referee Tom Henning Ovrebo managed to turn down four nailed-on penalty appeals by Chelsea in a game largely dominated by the gravitationally-challenged behaviour of Barca players, and capped by Didier Drogba's industrial rant down the lens of a live television camera. Ovrebo had to be smuggled out of England. All round, not exactly football's finest evening.
Man U have had plenty go their way, so an injustice, even one as perceptibly heinous as last night's, only generates so much sympathy in me. Yes, from one angle Nani appeared to go in studs-up like Bruce Lee, and, yes, from another angle, he looked like he was trying to hook down the ball, and Alvaro Arbeloa merely clattered into him.
Even as a Chelsea fan, with previous with Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir (he sent off John Terry at the Nou Camp last year for that kneeing incident with Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez in the Champions League semi-final), one ultimately has to agree with the Nani decision. Cakir was correctly applying the letter of the law. Studs up - early bath. Even if it was clear, from the more advanced optics of TV, that Nani's eyes remained trained throughout the incident on the ball.
But, Roy Keane - being somewhat disingenuous, perish the idea - had a point: "It's dangerous play - it's a red card. You have to be aware of other players on the pitch. Does [Nani] think he's going to have 20 yards to himself?". One wonders what Keane himself would have done...
The pain of accepting the red card decision being the right one is that with Nani walking on 56 minutes, Mourinho merely had to send in Modric and the odious Ronaldo to pull United asunder. Rarely has a red card inflicted such obvious pain on a side: Modric's equaliser was top-drawer, the winner from Ronaldo - who wears so much hair product these days you expect to see dead seabirds appearing on beaches - proved fatal.
The irony of last night, then, is that the man walking away from Old Trafford quietly, and with the smug grin we have all seen before, was Jose Mourinho. With a barely concealed smile, Mourinho shed a few crocodile tears in his own post-match interview: "Independent of the decision, the best team lost," he non-blubbed, adding: "We didn't deserve to win but football is like this."
Could you have blamed Mourinho for declaring the result sweet revenge for the Liverpool incident nine years ago? Course not.