Friday, 22 March 2013

Was Cuneyt Cakir Conscious Of Colluding With Collina?

Some readers have asked for an account on this blog regarding the highly-publicized fallout (see BBC Sport, The Telegraph) from Turkey Referee Cuneyt Cakir's decision to send off Nani in the UCL Round of 16 2nd Leg match between Manchester United and Real Madrid on Tuesday 5 March 2013. The match finished 1—2, with Real Madrid progressing 2—3 on aggregate. There were 5YCs and 1RC.

Referee Cuneyt Cakir sends off Manchester United's Nani (red 17). Pic courtesy of PA.

It is noticeable that many Referees (see here) have sided with Cakir's decision, claiming that it was a send off for serious foul play, while other Referees did not think the incident warranted a red card (see Dermot Gallagher). Also, with the exception of Roy Keane, the majority of players, ex-players and fans thought Cakir's decision was harsh. Here's HKRef's take on the incident:

First Consideration
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."

The Nani—Arbeloa challenge. Pic courtesy of EPA.

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.

Second Consideration
However, only a few days earlier in the English Premier League match between Stoke City and West Ham United on 2 March 2013, Stoke's Peter Crouch launched into a bicycle kick and connected flush with Matt Taylor's face, and knocked him out for a few seconds.

Stoke's Peter Crouch (red/white 25) connects with West Ham's Matt Taylor's jaw. Pics courtesy of PA.
West Ham's Demel (maroon 20) reacts in anger towards Crouch

Referee Jon Moss awarded a free kick to West Ham and was wrong not to caution Crouch.

To many referees this was 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."

The Laws state: "A scissors or bicycle kick is permissible provided that, in the opinion of the referee, it is not dangerous to an opponent."

Further Considerations
The Crouch—Taylor scenario also technically 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 bicycle kicks all the time; we know this because such kicks are used frequently by players.

It is these two definitions — one for a sending-off, the other for a caution — that appear to contradict each other. For bicycle 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.  
Q: Did Crouch's bicycle kick endanger the safety of an opponent? If yes, then RC.

Now consider the Nani—Arbeloa challenge; was it reckless or serious foul play? Did Nani intend to kick Arbeloa with his studs exposed and was Nani looking at Arbeloa? 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.  
Q: Did Nani act with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent? If Yes, then YC.


The problem perhaps 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 Football Associations in England, Spain, Germany, France and the Netherlands would likely interpret Nani's challenge to be 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. Apparently, Collina and his Committee view this type of challenge as serious foul play.

Therefore, Cakir had an incentive to exhibit boldness and send off Nani at Old Trafford because he knew Collina was assessing him, probably with May's Wembley final in mind. Collusion?

A Final Note
Looking at the slow motion replays, did anyone detect Nani apparently straightening his right leg in the split-second after the coming together of both players? In real time, it is hard to detect, but this could be Cakir's proper justification in issuing a straight red (providing, of course, that Cakir saw it in real time).


  1. Dear HKREF, Thank you very much for reviewing this incident.
    AS a former National referee I have to add this one point, that I used when I refereed. I viewed the incident as a collision not a foul. Both players were not looking at each other when they both were attempting to play the ball. "Excessive force or butality against an opponent.." NOR .."endangering the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as SFP" because the actions of BOTH players when they started their "actions" DID NOT involved an opponent!
    An Example: when a player in a crowd in the goal area, heads the ball towards the goal, and comes down on the ankle of an opponent and injures him, should this player be sent off for " endangering the safety of an opponent"? or sent off for "excessive force or brutality against an opponent"? NO. The same principle applies to the "collision" of Nani. Neither player knew the other was there. Look at Nani. His attention was on the falling ball. The opponent .. same thing. This was a collision just like the player heading the ball in the crowd in the box.

    Thanks for bringing this up.. because I believe this incident opens the door for a better interpretation of SFP.

    John Springfield MA

  2. Dear John, thank you for your feedback. I agree with you that this incident can help move forward discussion about SFP and exactly what is "acting with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent?".

    I would like to add that Referees must also consider "duty of care". That is, how conscious are players of their actions toward their opponents? One good measure of "duty of care" is to imagine how a player would act in the same situation but this time with a team-mate or good friend involved in the play. Do they act with due care?

  3. HKREF,
    While I believe that the Crouch incident should have been a YC, the Nani RC is the correct decision and I don't think that it is very helpful for you to compare the two. Different referees, different competitions, different matches, different contact. They are not the same, and to suggest that the Nani RC should not have been given because Crouch did not get a card is unhelpful. Every referee has to call the game that he is appointed to, using his interpretation of the Laws of the Game. (see Law 5). The referee can not use incidents in other matches to influence his decisions.

    Further, while the match report would have stated the reason for Nani's dismissal was for SFP, his actual offense is that he:
    - Kicked or attempted to kick an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be using excessive force. (excessive force is defined as the player has far exceeded the neccesary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent)
    -The referee is then required to send the player off.
    -The SFP is just an administrative title for recording the Red Card (Red cards must fall in to one of 7 categories)
    -Please note that there is no mention of the players intentions in the Law

    Every referees association in the world will teach their referees that if a player makes contact with his opponent with his studs out, that is excessive force, and so it should be. A players actions in that regard can't be excused by suggesting that he was concentrating on the ball.

    He was using excessive force (studs out) and he kicked his opponent. Only one result available to the referee, which is to send him off.

    Finally, your suggestion that the referee, Cunyet Cakir, made his decision based on the fact that Colina was assessing him is highly offensive and libelous. What evidence do you have for this statement or have you simply decided to make wild accusations about someone?

  4. Thank you Anon. Providing the common goal is to advance "a better interpretation of SFP", there is nothing wrong with the comparison that is used in this post. Considering the bicycle kick is a useful thought experiment for those of us who wish to understand the distinction between to "act with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent" and to "endanger the safety of an opponent".

    There is also no need to make false implications such as "The referee can not use incidents in other matches to influence his decisions." I obviously did not make this claim, nor do I advise such a thing.

    You mentioned Nani "was using excessive force (studs out) and he kicked his opponent. Only one result available to the referee, which is to send him off."
    This is your interpretation and I appreciate your view.
    Other readers have interpreted the contact as a "collision", which means Nani did not kick his opponent. I also appreciate this view.

    Therefore, the common goal is to simply understand UEFA's view (i.e. Collina and his committee's interpretation of SFP).

    Perhaps I will discuss this issue further in another post. In the meantime, Happy Easter everyone!

  5. When I saw the game on TV I thought that this wasn't even a foul let alone a card. Nani was trying to bring a ball in the air down. The other player initiated the contact by running into Nani's boot. Based on the reaction of both players immediately after the contact it seemed they agreed that this was a collision. All the players seemed shocked that the ref issued the red card.
    Thanks for your great site and discussions of ref decisions--good and bad. Too many sites refuse to discuss the good and bad.

    1. Thank you Anon. I think it is important for Referees to know and sense what standards are acceptable, and unacceptable, amongst players. I agree with you when you say: "All the players seemed shocked that the ref issued the red card."

      I'll have more to say about this in my next post "What is SFP?"

  6. Please, what means SFP?

    1. Thanks Anon. That's a difficult question to answer because the interpretation of SFP can be a very grey area.

      But please read my next post "What is SFP?"

    2. Sorry, I wrote it wrong. I think what abbreviation "SFP" means. But I already know - serious foul play.

      By the way, thanks a lot for your posts.

  7. Thanks for bright look on the situation. I fully agree with you, hkref. There's no clear cut definition of SFP.
    I would like to comment on your final note: I'm sure that the "kick" was natural movement. When Nani's leg hit Arbeloa it behaved like a string - after a collision it shot back to its previous position. I think that there's no way that Nani could evaluate the situation in a milisecond and intentionally kick the opponent.