Saturday 17 February 2018

Phelan slams 'incredible' call but Ferguson holds his tongue

By Simon Stone

Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan admitted Alex Ferguson was "not in a fit state" to question why Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir sent Nani off at Old Trafford.

United were seething at Cakir's decision to red card Nani for a high tackle on Alvaro Arbeloa, a decision which appeared to turn the Champions League tie in Real Madrid's favour.

Rio Ferdinand applauded the official sarcastically after the final whistle, while a clearly incensed Ferguson took the unprecedented step of avoiding media duties, presumably for fear of what he might say. "The manager is not in a fit state to talk to the referee about the decision," said Phelan. "It speaks volumes that I am sat here.

"We are all witnesses to a decision that seemed very harsh, and incredible at that moment in the game. To say we are disappointed is an understatement," he continued.

"We felt as though we had got things right tactically and were reasonably comfortable. That amazing decision changed things totally."

"Off the top of my head, no," added Phelan, when asked if he had ever felt a greater sense of injustice. "Referees are there to make decisions in big games. There is an element of doing the right thing at the right moment.

"All you guys and TV audience will have a decision. It is a disappointing one. It spoiled the game."

The United camp even got words of sympathy from Jose Mourinho, who has been on the wrong end of plenty of debatable calls in European combat down the years.

"Football at this level is such a fine balance," he said. "Playing with a man down for such a long period of time is going to change a lot.

"I can say for certain Arbeloa did not feign contact. It was quite strong and he (Nani) was shown a red. It could have been a yellow.

"Somebody can cry. I am the first one. My history is to play with 10 in the semi-finals, not in the last 16.

"I try to be honest. In my opinion, the best team lost. That is football. When we were against 10, we played very well for 10 minutes. We gave them a new problem they couldn't solve.

"But I know Old Trafford and what Alex Ferguson could do.

"We couldn't control the game by possession. That frustrated me. In that moment Diego Lopez gave us part of the victory. David de Gea was man of the match in Madrid. Today it was Diego Lopez."

Despite the controversy, Cristiano Ronaldo enjoyed an emotional return to Old Trafford, with a warm reception from the United fans. In the tense moments before kick-off, the home crowd accorded Ronaldo surely the noisiest and most affectionate reception of any returning footballer.

The idol patted his chest and appeared overcome.

"It was unbelievable. It was an emotional moment for me," Ronaldo said. "I'm never going to forget this moment. I don't have words to explain what I feel. It was unbelievable.

"For one side, I feel happy for Madrid but I feel a little bit sad. It's not easy to forget this home, where I was for six years.

"I came here like a child. The feeling is strange, I feel shy in my game, I can't explain the feeling."

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