It was an error compounded by an error, compounded by couple of serious doses of egotism.
The records will see it as another howler for Heurelho Gomes and God knows that wasn’t exactly a file in need of further boosting. Events in Old Trafford on Saturday evening showcased all that’s worst about modern football – a lack of sportsmanship, referees obsessed with being the centre of attention and the inadequacy of rules that are poorly administered in the first place.
First and foremost, Gomes made a mistake. From an early age, the phrase ‘play the whistle’ is drilled into the heads of all aspiring football stars as if it were the mantra of a cult religion. There was no whistle and as blatant as Nani’s handball was, making assumptions can only lead to trouble. With the clock ticking down, the noise of Old Trafford at full capacity and his team in desperate need of an equaliser, it’s easy to understand the haste Gomes employed in taking the ‘free-kick’, but more a touch more concentration would have established there was no whistle.
Blame must also go to shameless cheat, Nani. The Portuguese winger was supposed to step into the shoes of Ronaldo and for most of his time with Man Utd, that hope seemed hugely unfounded. In recent months however, he’s raised his game and he’s been a joy to much for the most part. Sadly now it looks like he wants to step into his compatriot’s shoes not only in terms of contribution to the team, but in seeking to make ill-gotten gains through simulation and gamesmanship. Having been the player to have so clearly handled the ball, Nani should have recognised the mistake Gomes had made and left well enough alone. Ironically, the fact that he played the whistle in this instance is not to be applauded because any player with an ounce of sportsmanship would have refused to take advantage of a clear misunderstanding.
Third and most culpable are Mark Clattenburg and the rules of the game. When the goal was scored, there was an opportunity to rectify the error. He could have ruled it out and awarded the free-kick or alternatively he could have allowed the goal stand and insist Man Utd allow Spurs score an uncontested goal. As ludicrous as the latter solution sounds, there are several precedents for this. Just what the referee and his assistant referee discussed will probably never fully be known, but it was clear from the events it was an unfortunate misunderstanding. Clattenburg seems to enjoy the infamy that comes with controversial decisions and one has to question whether – given the option – he’d choose what is just over what is going to get him talked about. The advantage rule is still a grey area in football. It was hurriedly added to the rules a few years back and contains a couple of loopholes. What exactly constitutes an ‘advantage’? Having the ball is a start, but there are many occasions when a player finds himself surrounded by opponents and would surely prefer to have the free-kick. In other common situations, a team may prefer to take the free-kick if only to waste a few seconds or stabilise a team that may have been struggling. In rugby a team can turn down advantage by committing an error of their own. Should the situation dictate many a player has deliberately knocked on and taken the ensuing penalty. In football, some sort of a signal or action by a player to signify the rejection of advantage.
Review the incident again here and if we get enough support we’ll take our idea to FIFA who’ll listen attentively before doing nothing.
As an aside, it must be particularly disappointing for Gomes who has worked hard and improved significantly to overturn the calamitous reputation he earned from several spectacular howlers during the early days of his time in England. He’s still some way to go to be considered genuinely top class, but he’s progressed substantially from the laughing stock of a couple of seasons ago. It’s a shame he’ll forever be associated with this comical indcident.