When Danish referee Kim Milton Nielsen showed a red card to Anderlecht substitute Nenad Jestrovic it seemed as though he’d been a little harsh. Nobody in the ground seemed to see what had happened, and Jestrovic’s team-mates surrounded the referee demanding to know why he’d been told to walk.
With the referee well-known in England for his red cards for the then-Manchester United midfielder David Beckham for England and more recently for Wayne Rooney for his sarcastic applause, it seemed that the Dane would be adding another “debatable” red card to his repertoire. However this all changed after the game when the official revealed the reason for the dismissal – the Serbian player had allegedly made a racist comment towards Momo Sissoko.
Liverpool were already in control of the game before the player – who’d only been on the field five minutes – was sent off. Afterwards Jestrovic was claiming innocence and that he had been abusive, but not in a racist way. Jestrovic said: “I can’t understand why I was sent off. I approached the referee after the game and he said it was for an obscenity.” Pressed further to explain his side of the story, Jestrovic said: “He called me a son of a bitch so I told him to f*** off. The ref showed me a red for that.”
It’s unlikely that an experienced referee like Nielson would send a player off merely for swearing, and after the game he confirmed that in his view the obscenities were racist and aimed at Sissoko – although he didn’t actually go into detail over the actual wording. TV replays show that Jestrovic clearly said more than the two words he’d claimed to make, and according to today’s Daily Mirror newspaper, sources are claiming that he actually said, “F*** off, you black *******.”
Attempts within the English game to stamp out racism in football are certainly ahead of the rest of the continent, but the emphasis tends to be on abuse from the crowd rather than players on the pitch. UEFA may yet decide that Jestrovic will receive further punishment.
Jestrovic’s boss, Anderlecht manager Frank Vercauteren said that he believed it could well have been a racist comment: “Yes, it is possible it was racist abuse. I don’t like it but it happens a lot in games.” Vercauteren also did not elaborate on what was said, but tried to give his player the benefit of the doubt – for now at least: “I do not want to explain it in detail, but I can say that the words and language used you do hear 50 times in an average game. Sissoko insulted Jestrovic and he replied in kind and the referee said he heard Jestrovic and sent him off.”
Vercauteren continued: “It is something you hear often. We will wait and see what the referee’s report says. Maybe what is written may not be correct and I want to see what is supposed to have been said. I will wait to see what is written in the report. I have to believe my player but I still say what was said is something that is heard a lot on the pitch. If it was racial abuse it is something I cannot condone.”
Vercauteren said that Sissoko should have joined Jestrovic for an early bath: “The other player should also have been sent off as well. He said something similar. Okay, these things should not be said, but I do not intend to punish my player further. He has been punished enough and anything I do will only punish the team.”
Rafa Benitez was interviewed before he’d had time to find out his own player’s side of the story, he said: “I have not spoken to Sissoko about what happened, so I do not know what was said.”