Manchester United were not eliminated from the Champions League because of a referee, they lost because Real Madrid scored more goals than they did. The great shame of this week's events was not the red card, but the disgraceful abuse given to the referee.
Match official Cuneyt Cakir has received death threats after giving Nani a red card. How utterly pathetic. He didn't have the benefit of countless television replays, he made a decision having seen the Portuguese player plant his studs into Alvaro Arbeloa's chest. We can all have an opinion on whether he made the right decision, but he was an experienced official making a call after viewing a second's worth of action from a particular angle. Try it some time, it's not easy.
Cakir didn't score a brilliant goal from the edge of United's box – that was Luka Modric. Cakir didn't construct a beautiful team move to set up a winner for Cristiano Ronaldo – that was the Portuguese attacker's team-mates.
'But United would have won if Nani wasn't sent off!' lament Cakir's fiercest critics. That is pure speculation. They may have won 3-0 on the night if it was 11 v 11, they may have lost 3-1. If, if, if. ITV's panel of pundits may not have agreed on the red card, but Roy Keane, Lee Dixon and Gareth Southgate were all in agreement that the tie was very much in the balance before United were reduced to 10 men.
Blaming the referee is an excuse. Sometimes it has a certain validity, but having a man sent off does not automatically mean you must concede two goals. United were not instantly doomed to concede twice, just as Real were not immediately guaranteed to score.
When a team goes down to ten men something has to give and, depending on the score at that moment, defensive solidity usually takes priority over attacking prowess. In this case, United lost an attacking player who, with some tactical reshuffling, could have been replaced without necessarily compromising their defensive solidity a great deal.
Sir Alex Ferguson chose not to utilise his substitutes when Nani was sent off, instead moving Welbeck to cover Nani's position, leaving Robin van Persie up front, seemingly at the cost of his plan to have the England international stifle Xabi Alonso. Remember, United did not need to score again at that point to progress – if they could have kept a clean sheet they would have gone through.
Jose Mourinho, by contrast, made a quick substitution, bringing Modric on for Arbeloa, with Sami Khedira moving to right-back. This gave Real extra creativity in attack.
It seems as though Ferguson was not prepared to resort to the all-out defensive tactics that Chelsea deployed after John Terry's sending off in their 2012 semi-final against Barcelona. In that game, Roberto Di Matteo responded to the Blues being reduced to 10 men by pulling front man Didier Drogba into the left side of midfield, replacing Ramires, who moved to right-back, allowing Jose Bosingwa to cover Terry's position at centre-back. It meant Chelsea were effectively playing without a striker, as Di Matteo prioritised defending a score that would see his team through.
Chelsea were more in awe of Barcelona than United were of Real, but with half an hour left at Old Trafford and the Red Devils leading, pragmatism was called for.
With the beauty of hindsight, Ferguson could have sacrificed the ineffective Van Persie and more of United's attacking potential, allowing Welbeck to continue his harrying job on Alonso, with Ashley Young brought on earlier to play on the left-hand side.
United's retention of an attacking threat after Nani's red card, but before Real scored, is borne out by match statistics that show, in the minutes after his dismissal, Fergie's team actually had three attempts on target to Real's none. With Modric on the pitch, scheming along with Mesut Ozil, however, Madrid went on to score two excellent goals.
The quality of Real's goals, United's defending and the substitutions of both coaches have largely been ignored, however, in favour of haranguing a referee's decision that, even if you vehemently believe was wrong, was certainly what is described in football as 'I've seen them given'.
So we can now add Cuneyt Cakir's name to those of Urs Meier (referee for Portugal v England at Euro 2004) and Anders Frisk (Barcelona v Chelsea in 2005) to a list of match officials blamed for a team's failure on the pitch. Not to mention subsequently harrassed to an unacceptable level for making an honest decision.
Had Chelsea lost to Barcelona in 2012, it is likely some fans would have chosen to blame the referee, but luckily for the man in charge that night the Blues played well enough to get through. The name of that referee? Cuneyt Cakir.
What do you think? Is the criticism of referees too much? Have your say by commenting below…