Extra time with Nathan Craig: The virtue of playing to the whistle, as demonstrated by Nani and Gomes

Each week A Different League will talk to Everton’s Wales U-21 international midfielder Nathan Craig on the big issues surrounding football and what life is like as a young Premier League professional. This week, Nathan shares his thoughts on Nani’s goal for Manchester United against Tottenham Hotspur and what he would have done in the same situation.

It was the talk of training yesterday but everyone seemed to say the same thing, which was keep playing until the whistle is blown.” Craig went on: “I think every striker that would have been in the same position as Nani would have done the same thing. The whistle wasn’t blown so therefore it’s a goal scoring position for him.”

The controversy started when Nani was denied a penalty after some contact from Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul, and it was following the unrewarded tumble that Nani appeared to handle the ball. But Craig feels referee Mark Clattenburg was right not to award a spot kick: “I don’t think it was a penalty in the first place. He went down too easy in the box and the ref made it clear it wasn’t a penalty by putting his hands behind his back and didn’t blow his whistle so therefore the ball is still in play.

Craig also noted how Nani’s United teammates urged the Portuguese winger to nab the ball after Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes let it run free. “You could see on Match of the Day 2 Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick with their hands up pointing at Nani to get the ball and kick it in while he was getting back up on his feet,” adding: “I think that played a big part in it. You’ve got three of your own teammates screaming at you to put the ball into the net!

If I was in the same position I would have to done the same thing to be honest. It’s a goal scoring opportunity and the game was only 1-0 at the time. Spurs could have gone on and nicked an equalizer.

Pointing to the multitude of chances the visitors had, Everton’s No. 33 believes Nani had little option but to find the back of the net. He said: “It’s vital if there’s an opportunity to put the ball in the back of the net you should do it. Spurs looked dangerous on the attack, with Rafael van der Vaart hitting the post in the first half, Luka Modric’s shot that took a deflection and nearly went in and Gareth Bale’s trademark run and shot that nearly found the back on the net.

Despite finding little fault in Nani’s actions, Craig does have sympathy for Spurs: “You can definitely see why the Spurs players were annoyed, especially their defence as they probably saw Nani handling the ball whilst he was down on the floor. I think that’s the only reason why Gomes stopped as well. But I was always told in football: ‘Play to the whistle!’

I’ve never seen anything like that in a game of football before and I think it will be a conversation that you will keep hearing for years to come.

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