Arbeloa could have been killed
I never really intended to write this blog about Manchester United because the bulk of my football and sports content team at supersport.com are Manchester United fans, except Thando from Rugby, who is a Chelsea fan and Clyde who is an Arsenal fan.
I walked in on the expected Thando roasting and he needed me to buttress his argument that Nani deserved to be sent off. Neelesh, who is for United, said, “How can you expect a Liverpool fan to be objective?”
So I tried to be objective and I said, “Nani didn’t deserve to be sent off for intent but it was dangerous play. Then I added, ‘Arbeloa could have been killed’. Where have we heard that before?”
Clyde provided the answer – Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous quote after Manchester United’s first draw of the season against Swansea.
"Robin van Persie is lucky to be alive," said Ferguson.
"It was a disgraceful act from their player today and he should be banned by the FA (Football Association). Robin could have had a broken neck.
"It was one of the most dangerous things I've seen on a football pitch in many years. It was absolutely deliberate and right in front of the referee."
Williams claimed it had been an accident, telling Sky Sports: "I just cleared the ball with frustration and unfortunately it hit him in the head and he got a bit angry about it."
I missed a bit of the first half however I watched most of the second half and Tweeted along. The Nani incident and the debates about it will linger on as it seems only Roy Keane and I agreed with the referee but, as a Liverpool fan, no one will believe I am objective. It’s even made worse that Arbeloa is a former Liverpool player and, incredibly, I only just remembered that now as I write this.
So, what are we looking at here? I have even more questions. Was it a foul? Was it intentional? Was it the turning point? Was that why Manchester United lost the game? Would United have won the game if Nani did not get sent off? Was Manchester United the better side? Now let’s try and find answers.
Was it a foul?
The laws of the game stipulate that a free kick needs to be awarded when two players go for the ball and one of them goes with his boots high enough to touch chest level, as was the case with Nani’s boots. So the first thing that was correct on the night was that Real Madrid won a free-kick. I doubt anyone will argue about that. I have not seen any serious debates about that.
Was it intentional?
What was Nani trying to do at the time? He was obviously trying to control the ball. Now, here’s my Liverpool glasses coming to the rescue. Arbeloa prefers to chest the ball most of the time. He likes to bring the ball down rather than with his head. Nani could have done that.
Most of my friends, and especially my Twitter followers, believed Nani should not have been sent off because he did not intend to harm Arbeloa. I don’t share that view because Nani was not taking part in “Dancing with the Stars”. This was a battle, a war, between arguably the two biggest football teams in the world. For once I agree with Roy Keane. Here’s what he said.
"In my career I would think 'did I give the referee a chance to send me off?' If I did, then it is out of my hands. I think that is the right decision. It is irrelevant if Nani meant to do it. He should be aware of the players around him. Does he think that he will have 20 yards to himself?"
Was that the turning point?
I’m surprised that the commentators on the night and the English media have been saying that was the turning point of the game. How many times have we seen players sent off? I agree that Manchester United seemed well in control of the game up until that point and rightfully led 1-0 through a Sergio Ramos own goal. Nani engineered the goal.
However, I do not agree that United lost that game because of the sending off. If, and it’s a very big if, Nani was correctly sent off would it have been enough reason to let a one-goal advantage slide with 35 minutes to go?
I think the real game changer was Jose Mourinho’s instant reaction. He took out Arbeloa and immediately brought on Luka Modric. We all know what a smashing player he is and he brought determination, increased the numbers in midfield and added flair and creativity to Madrid’s play. Above all, he scored a cracking equaliser with nine Manchester United players behind the ball.
Was that why United lost the game?
United lost because they got emotional. Chelsea had John Terry sent off against Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals and still battled through for 70 minutes. Alex Ferguson did not react on the pitch beyond running down to complain. He usually got away with it in the Premier League and even intimidates the opposition manager and players but this was a massive opponent, Real Madrid.
Real Madrid had overcome Barcelona over two key matches in the Copa del Rey and La Liga and their confidence was riding high. They were down by a goal and, despite not playing well, they knew that they had to keep looking for loopholes.
It can be very difficult to play against 10 men. The bitter truth is that United went to sleep just because they had a man sent off.
Why was Wayne Rooney only brought on with 17 minutes to go? Why wasn’t Robin van Persie taken off? He wasn’t playing well and didn’t seem likely to score. Chicarito? So many questions and I am sure Alex Ferguson knew he would be asked and he avoided the press conference on account of the red card.
Was Arbeloa lucky to be alive?
Footballers need to cut out the acting and begin to man up. This is a contact sport and that is why I will never choose Messi or Ronaldo ahead of Pele, Alfredo di Stefano, Cruyff and Eusebio. Those were real men.
Let’s go back to the Van Persie and Williams incident. It is possible that Van Persie could have been killed. I remember as a child growing up as an England fan. I watched the Brazil v England friendly in Wembley. Eder, the Brazilian winger, used to run up 10 metres to take free-kicks and he packed a ferocious left foot. As he let fly that afternoon, the ball struck Ray Wilkins’ head and poor old Ray slumped and passed out. It took a while for him to come to terms with what hit him.
"Robin van Persie is lucky to be alive," said Ferguson.
Sir Alex, what if Nani’s boots did some fatal damage to Arbeloa while doing the “air Jordan” control? Maybe Arbeloa is lucky to be alive.