It’s hard to blame anyone but Nani for the way Manchester United found their way out of the Champions League so early in the competition, but for Alex Ferguson to be blaming the referee instead of himself for a weird decision like benching Wayne Rooney prior to the match is hypocrisy and simply fooling the fans and the public that follows.
There’s no use talking about tactics and differences, because there’s only one thing that allowed Real Madrid, who didn’t play well up to the moment that Nani saw the red card, to take over the match and eventually come away with the 2-1 win. Nani sent off. And he should have been sent off.
Alex Ferguson simply doesn’t strike the same kind of fear in the hearts of European referees as he does among those in the UK. Nani lunged at a player with his boot directed at the chest of a player. His rolling around on the pitch for about a minute afterwards was nothing new. He knew what he did, and he knew he was going to get booked or worse for it. Another chapter in his amazing contribution this season.
But when you look at the first 56 minutes, which were almost entirely in United control, although the trend of falling back and slowly allowing Real Madrid restricted control over the field was already in effect, it’s going to be about the shots United didn’t make. Things aren’t falling for Robin van Persie at the moment, and United didn’t have the kind of finishing ability they needed to get the amount of goals that might have been enough even without a player.
The strange case of Wayne Rooney? Hard to explain. As far as we know by now, it wasn’t a fitness issue. Maybe some moment of tactical “brilliance” from Alex Ferguson, that exploded in his face, like the entire night. After the match Mike Phelan spoke about his manager being distraught, probably feeling robbed by the referee, and his history of screwing English teams. He forgot the handball Rafael should have been called for in the penalty box, before things were set in stone. Not everyone would have given Nani a red card, but the Old Trafford isn’t fortified from calls against the hosts like it is in the Premier League.
And we go back to Rooney, and Ryan Giggs. Giggs was part of clever defending in the middle of the pitch, but his effect on the match was slowly evaporating as the minutes went on. It’s only theorizing how things would have gone with Wayne Rooney on the pitch, but it’s safe to assume United would have had more finishing quality for their dominant first half if he was on the field instead of anyone but Robin van Persie.
Now, all that’s left is the league double, which is quite important, despite the disappointment from the exit in the Champions League. It’s proof that English football has taken a step or two back, in club level as well as with the national team, with Arsenal unlikely to make it out of their predicament as well. Manchester United are a very good side, which might have made it through into the quarterfinals if it wasn’t for a red card, but it doesn’t mean that they’re the better team. Not without their best players on the pitch.