No one in football is immune to mistakes, and that goes for referees as much as players.
Games regularly turn on the decision to give a player a red card – or just a yellow – in marginal situations.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would describe these five as marginal, yet each of the offenders escaped with just a booking for their troubles.
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Nigel de Jong (Netherlands v Spain, 2010)
Right, I’ll be honest from the get-go here. We could have probably filled this article just using incidents from the 2010 World Cup final, but thought it best to stick with the one which made the rest of the mayhem possible.
Referee Howard Webb could have sent off De Jong for planting his studs into the chest of professional nice man Xabi Alonso inside the opening half-hour of the game. Or he could have accepted he missed it and allowed the game to carry on.
By choosing option three, a yellow, he was essentially telling the players on the pitch “anything up to and including a karate kick to the chest is fair game”.
Ben Thatcher (Manchester City v Portsmouth, 2006)
Now, we know there shouldn’t be a hard and fast rule where the injury subjected affects the punishment, but if you leave an opponent requiring oxygen and waking up in hospital with gaps in his memory then we’re going to take a punt and say it’s more likely than not to be a red card offence.
Thatcher’s elbow on Mendes, delivered at full pace and bringing threats of police involvement was even described as “indefensible” by Stuart Pearce. Stuart Pearce!
When a man nicknamed ‘Psycho’ looks at something and thinks “maybe a bit much, that,” you’re probably not looking too good.
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Michael Brown (Fulham v Manchester United, 2007)
Neil Warnock’s teams have often been described as “full-blooded,” and some of the stars carried that with them even after leaving Bramall Lane.
Take Michael Brown, a star for the Blades under Warnock, who produced this moment while at Fulham. Yes, Fulham, a team famous for their neutrals stand and their reputation as some of football’s nice guys. Clearly no one told the midfielder.
As you watch Brown launch into what we’ll generously call a tackle on Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, you get the first-ever recorded instance of a sharp intake of breath becoming visible. Don’t ask how.
Dan Smith (Sunderland v Arsenal, 2006)
Plenty of people will remember this challenge as the one which sparked Abou Diaby’s injury hell, but you probably just assumed it was a red. I mean, how couldn’t it be, right?
There’s nothing good you can say about this. In fact, when you watch it in slow motion it almost looks as if Smith is turning his head away, unable to witness the consequences of his own actions.
In fact, it’s the kind of challenge that’s designed to be watched in slow motion, just so you have enough time to look away before the moment of impact. Don’t do it to yourself.
“Having watched it again I just feel I will not leave this case there because there was bad intention in the tackle,” Arsène Wenger said at the time. “There was only one intention in this tackle – to hurt the player – and it’s a career-threatening tackle. I will take legal advice to see how far I can go.”
Neither man was really the same after this: Smith, who later hit back at Wenger and disputed the idea this one challenge had a butterfly effect, dropped into non-league and eventually left football altogether, while Diaby suffered for more or less the rest of his career. We still wonder what might have been possible from the Frenchman if it didn’t happen.
Jason Talbot (Livingston v Hearts, 2015)
I mean, come on mate. What is this? What’s the best you’re expecting from this situation? Seriously.