Explained: Bellingham’s 99th minute red card and the goal that never was

A pulsating La Liga encounter between Valencia and Real Madrid was into its 99th minute when the visitors won another corner.

As Luka Modric sprinted to take the set-piece, referee Jesus Gil Manzano signalled clearly to the whole stadium that this was going to be the final play of the match.

The game had been locked at 2-2 when the 90 minute mark passed, and the fourth official’s board showed a minimum of seven minutes to be added on. There was then a two minute plus delay for a VAR check on a penalty initially awarded to Madrid for a foul on Hugo Duro, but then overturned after Gil Manzano was called to watch a replay on the pitchside monitor.

Everyone in the stadium was on tenterhooks as Modric’s corner was punched clear by Valencia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili. Madrid’s Brahim Diaz quickly regained possession on the edge of the penalty area and worked the space to cross back towards the six yard box.

Valencia forward Hugo Duro was now gesturing frantically at the official, who put the whistle to his lips and blew the three sharp blasts, turning and signalling towards half way just as Jude Bellingham headed Diaz’s cross past Mamardashvili into the net.

The clock read 98:40 when the ball hit the net, and Valencia defender Cristhian Mosquera turned away in despair, clearly thinking his team had just lost a game they had been leading 2-0.

But as it dawned on everyone that the final whistle had been blown, and Bellingham had not added another late match-winning goal to his record, Madrid captain Dani Carvajal and teammates including Bellingham, Vinicius Jr, Joselu, Andriy Lunin and Antonio Rudiger all raced to confront the referee, with Gil Manzano stepping back so he had room to flash a red card at Bellingham.

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(Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

By now Ancelotti was arguing with the referee, while mini-tussles broke out in different areas of the pitch, with both Bellingham and Vinicius squaring up to Valencia players, before the players finally made their way off, a full five minutes after the game had officially ended, all square.

It came amid a heated atmosphere throughout the whole game at Mestalla, with Vinicius Jr whistled every time he touched the ball on his first time back since being racially abused at the stadium last May. The Brazilian responded by celebrating both his goals with pointed messages to the stands.

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(Jose Jordan/AFP via Getty Images)

Bellingham was still furious as he left the pitch and walked down the tunnel, and continued onto social media soon afterwards, reposting on X a message which said: “The referee literally waited for Brahim Diaz to cross the ball! THIS IS A SCANDAL.”

Bellingham soon removed that message from his account, but other Madrid players were happy to voice their indignation. Aurelien Tchouameni’s message “That’s embarrassing” brought a reply from his fellow French midfielder Edouard Camavinga. 

Privately, Madrid’s players and staff were also furious at what had happened. One player said it was “disgraceful” by the officials, while another said it was an “unthinkable” decision to not allow the goal, and a third thought it was “incredibly stupid” how the final stages of the game played out.

Even Valencia’s Duro told Movistar TV directly after the game that the referee had clearly made a mistake.

“When we took the corner (Gil Manzano) said it was the last one,” former Madrid youth teamer Duro said. “I don’t know why waited to whistle if he’d said that. I understand Madrid — he had to whistle when we cleared the ball. He waited until Brahim had the ball, and when he was going to cross, then he whistled.”

Besides the two points which the decision ‘cost’ Madrid in the title race, there is now the possibility of Bellingham picking up a suspension of at least three games, if he is found to have insulted or threatened the officials.

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(David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Ancelotti seemed very aware of this during his post-match news conference.

“Bellingham did not insult the referee, he said in English ‘it’s a f*****g goal’, which is what we all thought,” Ancelotti said. “Obviously he came close to the referee, but given what had happened that was pretty normal. He did not insult, not at all. Let’s see what is written in the ref’s report.”

The official referee’s match report, published online an hour after the game, said that: “In minute 999 (sic), the player (5) Bellingham, Jude Victor William was sent off for the following motive: After the end of the game and while still on the pitch, he came running over to me in an aggressive way shouting, repeatedly: ‘it’s a f*****g goal’.”

That recalled an incident involving La Liga’s other Englishman Mason Greenwood, who in early January was sent off while playing for Getafe, where he is on loan from Manchester United. The referee Figueroa Vázquez wrote in his report that Greenwood had said “f**k you”, but Getafe successful argued he had actually said “f**k sake”, and the forward did not have to serve a ban.

That will now play out in the coming days, with Madrid sure to appeal the red card, and yet another loud and angry refereeing row certain to dominate headlines and conversations throughout Spanish football.

On Saturday night, Real Madrid’s own club website headlined their match report “An unprecedented refereeing decision prevents Real Madrid from winning at Mestalla.” The sub-headline read: “Bellingham scored the winning goal with the last kick of the game, but Gil Manzano disallowed it because he blew the final whistle while the ball was in the air.”

Real Madrid TV’s coverage of the game was even more critical of Gil Manzano, saying that he had also not allowed enough ‘extra’ added time to cover the time lost during the post-regulation VAR check.

“First Gil Manzano whistled a penalty when it was clear there was no foul, and then VAR had to correct him,” said one pundit on the channel. “And then in the final play, if you allow play to continue, and the cross to be hit, you cannot then whistle full time when the ball is in the air.”

Real Madrid TV has been regularly critical of referees recently, to the point of producing videos edited to back-up claims that certain referees are biased against Los Blancos, broadcasting these in the days before those officials are due to take charge of a Madrid game.

Madrid president Florentino Perez has also often publicly criticised the standard of Spanish refereeing, while implicitly saying that he believed decisions were taken against his team, including during VAR revisions. Perez has also said that his team have been historically hurt by their rivals Barcelona’s historic payments to former referee’s chief Jose Maria Enriquez Negreira.

Many Madrid fans do believe that officialdom is now biased against their side. During last weekend’s La Liga game at home to Sevilla, Bernabeu fans regularly chanted “corruption in the federation” when decisions went against their team, including during a VAR check which ended up ruling out a Real Madrid goal.

Bellingham himself has been getting progressively more upset with Spanish referees, picking up three yellow cards in six games through January and February, and serving a punishment for accumulation of bookings just a few weeks ago.

In an irony which the Englishman is unlikely to find funny himself, Bellingham’s most recent previous booking came when Madrid played Almeria in late January, another game full of refereeing controversy. Ancelotti’s side were 2-0 down at half-time, but came back to win 3-2 after three huge VAR-assisted decisions went their way.

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Bellingham begins to celebrate his ‘goal’ on Saturday (Mateo Villalba/Getty Images)

Almeria were incandescent at how they had been treated by officials in that game — and there are now widespread doubts about the referee standards among many in Spanish football.

Ancelotti may have never experienced anything like the end of Saturday’s game at Mestalla, but something quite similar happened just last season in La Liga. A game between Valladolid and Sevilla was still goalless deep into added time when referee Miguel Angel Ortiz Arias whistled for half-time, just as Valladolid’s Sergio Escudero hit a 30 yard shot which was flying into the Sevilla goal. Ortiz Arias apologised quickly to Valladolid on the pitch, but the decision stood. They lost that game 3-0, and ended up being relegated by just one point a few weeks later.

Madrid chief Perez and La Liga president Javier Tebas agree on very little, but both have called for the control and organisation of refereeing in La Liga to be taken away from the Spanish federation. Tebas told The Athletic last summer that ideally a new independent body would be established, similar to the situation in the Premier League.

Bellingham had calmed down somewhat by the time he left the stadium, taking time for autographs and selfies with some fans on his way to the Madrid team bus.

Ancelotti was also aware of how Madrid’s players need to keep their focus on things they can control.

“We’re obviously still angry, the dressing room is very heated, that is normal,” the experienced Italian told The Athletic at the post game news conference. “We have to get back to normal as we have another very important game on Wednesday.”

Madrid should have their focus back for a midweek Champions League last 16 second leg at home to RB Leipzig. And the loss of two points at Valencia shouldn’t matter too much in the La Liga title race, given they still lead second placed Girona by seven points, and third placed Barcelona by nine (although both Catalan sides have a game in hand on Sunday).

The Bernabeu club’s legal team will also be working this week on Bellingham’s appeal, with the aim of avoiding any suspension. It still remains to be seen whether he will be available for Madrid’s next three La Liga games.

What we can be sure of is that noise and anger over refereeing standards in Spain will grow even louder after what was a surreal and farcical end to Saturday evening’s game at Mestalla.

(Header photo: Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)

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