Ferguson left speechless by red

Nani holds his head in disbelief after being sent off against Real Madrid. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Nani holds his head in disbelief after being sent off against Real Madrid. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Wed, Mar 6, 2013, 00:00

Soccer: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 on Tuesday night.

From a position of some promise, 2-1 up on aggregate after Sergio Ramos' own goal, 10-man United were dumped out of the Champions League as Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo scored to take Real Madrid into the quarter-finals.

United were seething at Cakir's decision to red card Nani for a high tackle on Arvelo Arbeloa.

Rio Ferdinand applauded the official sarcastically after the final whistle, whilst 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 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."

In his role as pundit for ITV, former United skipper Roy Keane claimed the decision to dismiss Nani had been correct.

It was not a view shared by many. And none in the dressing room he inhabited for so long.

"To say we are disappointed is an understatement," said Phelan. "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."

Meanwhile Jose Mourinho admitted Real Madrid did not deserve to progress to the quarter-finals.

"Independent of the decision, the best team lost. We didn't play well, we didn't deserve to win but football is like this," the Portuguese told ITV1 in a brief interview.

"I'm not speaking about the decision because I'm not sure about it."

When pressed further, Mourinho quickly added: "But independent of that the best team lost."

Later, Mourinho added: "Football at this level is such a fine balance. 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 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 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 Sir 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."

United did have chances in the latter stages, with skipper Nemanja Vidic going close, and also Michael Carrick. But perhaps the best opportunity fell to Wayne Rooney, who had been controversially omitted from United's starting line-up.

Rooney's wife Coleen expressed her surprise prior to kick-off, and now there is sure to be speculation about the striker's United future. However, with Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck - the most obvious men to profit from Ferguson's bold call - excelling, the decision was justified.

Even so, both camps had their take on the situation.

"The decision was tactical," said Phelan. "In that dressing room, everyone was fit. But big decisions have to be made. Tonight we had the balance just right."

Typically, Mourinho was more forthright.

"Sir Alex has won the right for every decision to be correct and never have a question mark against them," said Mourinho. He is the best. He is the top. You (reporter) are nobody to put a question like that. I am nobody.

"He did a great job."

Meanwhile Mourinho was left frustrated by his team's performance.

"I'm a bit frustrated because we played amazingly well against Barcelona and today I was waiting for more. I wanted my team to come here and to express our football in a different way. I know they are giants, not just physically but also mentally, I know they are fantastic and I know they have a manager who can motivate and organise people.

"But I was wanting us to come here and play in a different way."

While they have taken huge steps towards potentially being crowned European champions this season, Mourinho is aware there are still plenty of challenges to overcome.

"We've beaten one but the Champions League is full of good teams," he said. "But this one was an important one especially after the result of the first leg and with a bit of luck we did it."

Mourinho refused to celebrate such an important victory and headed straight for the tunnel after shaking hands with Ferguson before the final whistle - a move that could be interpreted as attempting to curry favour with the United faithful.

The former Chelsea boss has made no secret of his desire to return to the Premier League and has been touted as Ferguson's eventual successor.

When asked about his love for the English game, the 50-year-old added: "I love it, everybody knows I love it and everybody knows one day I will be back - that's for sure. I have to be be back because I enjoy so much all the time and today, independent of the result, was brilliant."

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