That Nani Goal – A Referee’s Viewpoint

On Saturday, Manchester United beat Tottenham 2-0 at Old Trafford. Given Tottenham’s poor record at Old Trafford – they have not won there since 1989 – the result in itself was not unusual. What was unusual was a bizarre goal from United winger Luis Nani in the eighty fourth minute.

Wes Brown chipped a perfect through ball to Nani, who then appears to be slightly tugged by Younes Kaboul in the area. Nani fell and grabbed the ball with both hands, presuming that he has won the penalty. The penalty was not given and Tottenham keeper Gomes picked up the ball. Mark Clattenburg, the referee, does not blow the whistle for a free kick. Gomes puts the ball down for a free kick. Nani slides the ball into the net. Goal given. 2-0 to United. Game over. Three points to Manchester United.

I’ve heard many pundits since then saying that the decision to allow the goal was ridiculous. As a referee, I feel that the decision to allow the goal must be defended. In terms of the Laws of the Game, the goal was perfectly legitimate.

A penalty should not have given. The challenge on Nani by Kaboul was not a foul. Clearly, Nani has then fouled by handling the ball. Clattenburg does not give a free kick to Tottenham because, with five United players in the attacking third of the pitch, keeper Gomes has a great opportunity to launch a counter attack where the Tottenham attacking players would have outnumbered the United defenders. Clattenburg has seen the advantage and has applied it correctly to the wording of the Laws.

Gomes was plain stupid to put the ball on the ground to take a free kick. After the incident Gomes had been standing above Luis Nani shouting at him to get up off the floor. This has allowed the United players to get back into position to defend the Tottenham counter. Gomes has chosen to waste the advantage that Tottenham had. The advantage is now over.

When Gomes places the ball on the ground, the match has moved into another phase of play. A free kick was never given and therefore the ball is still in play. Nani had every right to play the ball, and the goal was rightly given.

It is only after the goal has been scored that the refereeing team handles the situation badly. The assistant referee starts sprinting towards the halfway line, a signal that a goal has been awarded. He only raises his flag after he stops sprinting. Heurelho Gomes protests to him about the handball, which he responds “I know.” It is essential for the refereeing team to appear united in every decision they give. By saying “I know” to Gomes the assistant referee has undermined the authority of the referee and effectively made him look like a fool.

Clattenburg went over to discuss the decision with his assistant. He tells every Tottenham player to leave the area, however allows Rio Ferdinand to join in with the discussion. The referee must never be swayed by the reputation of any player. He must be impartial at all times. Clattenburg at this point has appeared to be completely biased towards the England captain by letting him be the only player allowed to take part in the discussion.

By the letter of the law, the right decision was to allow the goal. If anyone still does not understand why then I suggest they read the Laws of Association Football 2010/2011 for a more detailed explanation.

Clattenburg has lost all his integrity as the match referee by the way he has handled the situation, not by him giving the goal. No common sense has been shown by him. He deserves praise for his understanding of the laws, but will never receive it as, once again, he has lost any respect from players and fans because of the way he acted after the decision has made.


2 Responses

  1. I am also a football nerd, and disagree with your comment that Gomes played the advantage. Every game in football you see situations where, for example, if the next touch taken is too heavy then the ref goes back to award the freekick. Is this not exactly the same? I feel it is.

    Secondly, the linesman is there to assist the referee – and is himself a qualified ref!! So to correct the decision would not be undermining him, it would merely be telling the ref about something he couldn’t see from where he was standing. Linemen disallow goals regularly because of fouls the referee hasn’t seen, or in some cases offside, so the goal should NOT have stood, as the laws of the game have been broken.

    In fact, Nani should have been yellow carded for the incident, Tottenham should have had a freekick, and the game should have continued from there. This also relates back to the Liverpool goal against Sunderland that Dirk Kuyt scored – that goal should have been disallowed. It comes down to very bad sportsmanship from the bigger clubs.

  2. My interpretation of the laws are that the advantage was played and was applied correctly. Referees in England are taught to interpret an advantage as if a player has control of the ball and can gain an advantage because of it then they should be able to play advantage. Football is not like rugby where it is possible for an advantage to last for thirty seconds, and, in my opinion, never can be. Gomes always had control of the ball and could have gained an advantage from it.

    The assistant referee is there to assist the referee. I have no issue with him correcting the referee’s decision. They are there to aid the referee, and, from my personal experience, make the referee’s job easier. However, to do it as he did, by speaking to the Tottenham defender before speaking to Mr Clattenburg, undermines the authority of the whole refereeing team and is unprofessional.

    Unless you believe that Nani’s original handball was a bookable offence, then I’m not sure how you come to the conclusion that Nani should be booked for playing the ball. No matter whether you think that the follow up to the goal was correct or not, Nani had every right to shoot because the ball was in play.

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