Reaction to going down to 10 men against Real Madrid raises questions about the true qualities of Alex Ferguson's side
Amid the hullabaloo that followed the harsh dismissal of Nani as Manchester United were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday it is hard to believe that anyone was shouting "Come on the 10 men!"
The exhortation belongs to the days before substitutes were allowed, when the tired legs of depleted teams slogged their way across muddy pitches and being one short was a considerable handicap. In the modern game a side will be reduced to 10 players only when a man is hurt if all the substitutes have been used. Usually the loss of a man will be the result of a red card.
Sendings-off are more common now because over the years referees have been urged to deal strictly with professional fouls and dangerous play. The game is all the better for the clean-up. Scything tackles from behind are a rarity and footballers are now able to screen the ball in relative safety.
It is inevitable that an official will occasionally misread an incident and punish a blameless challenge with a dismissal, which is what happened to Nani when the Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir decided that the United player's attempt to bring down a high ball, accidentally catching Alvaro Arbeloa amidships as the Real man moved in, warranted red rather than a cautionary yellow.
Manchester United's fury was understandable. Less easy to comprehend was the way their football descended into chaos for those few fateful minutes following Nani's departure when goals from Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo won the game and the tie for Real Madrid.
Whatever the injustice of the situation in which Sir Alex Ferguson's team found themselves they should have remembered that the first thing to do when a player has been lost is do nothing in particular for a time, just try to keep possession and reorganise to meet the altered circumstances.
Yes, United were hanging on to a one-goal lead against a Real team fresh from beating Barcelona twice in less than a week. The task was always going to be demanding but few, if anybody, among their supporters could have imagined they would ever see a Manchester United team trapped in its own penalty area at Old Trafford for some 15 minutes with little idea of how to escape.
Compare the way they dealt with going a man down against Real to Chelsea's reaction last season after the same referee had, with more justification, sent off John Terry early in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Terry having kneed Alexis Sánchez in the back. Chelsea were already a goal down and soon fell further behind yet they sorted themselves out so well that even Lionel Messi could not find a way through and eventually goals from Ramires and Fernando Torres took Roberto Di Matteo's side to the final on a 3-2 aggregate.
The aftermath of Tuesday's defeat has been largely taken up with the repercussions of Ferguson's refusal to appear for the post-match interviews, a silence that bellowed its significance, and the future of Wayne Rooney, who was reduced to a walk-on part. Yet the shortcomings of United's reaction to the crisis and the questions it has raised about the team's true qualities at this level are surely more important.
Past United sides would probably have done better. After all United were the first team to have a man sent off in an FA Cup final when Peter Willis dismissed Kevin Moran in 1985 after the defender had brought down Peter Reid as the Everton player was about to break clear. Ron Atkinson's side kept its nerve and its shape and won the Cup with Norman Whiteside's goal in extra time.
The Brazil team that beat England in the 2002 World Cup after having Ronaldinho sent off made a habit of playing 10 against 11 in training, just in case. Perhaps United should take this on board instead of going on about the ref.
They can expect no sympathy from Uefa, whose referee observer on Tuesday was Pierluigi Collina, the Italian with the terrifying glare who, in 1995, sent off Paul Ince for dissent when United went out of the Champions League in Gothenburg. That said, Collina would surely not have seen red in Nani's challenge.