We’ve seen some appalling tackles in the Premiership recently, with some of the managers inexcusably defending the players involved. After Nolan’s shocker on Anichebe the other week, we had a series of them in the Wigan-West Ham game on Wednesday night. Lucas Neill should’ve gone for a shin-high, studs up tackle, while the less said about Cattermole’s two footed lunge at Scott Parker, the better.
What is especially galling is how the referees come in for stick when they actually make the right decision and send the perpetrators off. I was watching MOTD on Wednesday night, and Stuart Attwell, the poor referee for that game, was heavily criticised by both managers and the pundits after the game. Yes, he made a couple of mistakes (Carlton Cole’s first yellow and not sending Neill off), but the players gave him such a succession of difficult decisions that it was impossible for him to get them all right. He got Cole’s second yellow right – his foot was head high, the same offence Van Persie was given a straight red for against FC Thun a few years ago, and he was proved correct in most of the calls he made.
It has long been a bone of contention with Wenger that the sort of appalling challenge we’ve seen from Nolan, Neill and Cattermole recently can put players out for huge periods, yet can never result in more than a three game ban for the ‘tackler’, if you can even call them that. He reiterated his point yesterday, calling for the ability to extend bans in special circumstances:
“They [the Football Association] could create a special committee to analyse if a three-game suspension is enough or not. But I feel that 10 matches is not enough for some of the tackles we have seen.”
“I have seen some horrible tackles this season and I don’t think the punishment is sufficient. Kevin Nolan’s tackle on Victor Anichebe the other week was horrendous. An accident can happen when two people go for the ball but it is very rare. What I see is that guys go into the tackle to hurt the player. There is not sufficient punishment.”
“Maybe we need to be stronger with our own players but sometimes you see the players make horrendous tackles and then say to the referee, ‘What’s wrong there?’ You think, ‘my friend, touch your head because you have completely lost touch with reality’. It is unbelievable but they know what they have done.”
And he is absolutely right. Nolan looked incredulous when sent off, a remarkable reaction for a man who had just jumped in with two feet, shin high, and ended Anichebe’s season. After the game, the player was defended, but we know from his Bolton past that the tired ‘he is not that kind of player’ line simply isn’t true.
Anichebe now misses around thirteen games, Nolan only three. Where is the justice? We have experience with this – Dan Smith and Martin Taylor picking up only three match bans for horrific lunges that put Diaby and Eduardo out for a year each, and while intent has to be proven, plenty of these challenges should be met with extremely harsh punishments. They are intended to hurt, can end careers, and three match bans aren’t going to stop them.
Of course, by re-opening this can of worms Wenger leaves himself open to criticism, like from the Mail’s ‘Hatchet Man’, a blatantly inflammatory column that seems to have a personal vendetta against him, so he does clarify that tackling is still a great art form:
“I like tackling because it’s a fantastic technique. What I don’t like is when the referees punish all the tackles without distinction and I’m scared that might force the good tackles out of the game.”
“A good tackle is beautiful to watch; you see the guy sliding in, and trying to play the ball. But when you see the guy go in with two feet – one level with the knee and one above the ball – you say ‘bye, bye, go home, what are you doing on a football pitch?”
Again, it is hard to argue. There is nothing wrong with a great tackle, nor with a tough competitor who makes crunching but fair challenges. But how many of those players can you currently name? All the names the come to mind – Essien, Gerrard and more – all put in some appalling lunges. Is it impossible to be an effective stopper without resorting to this?
Rather than banging on about how much he hates the current success of English football (a complaint never raised when Italian or Spanish clubs were doing the same), Sepp Blatter needs to address some real issues. Remove the ridiculous rule that stops retrospective action if a yellow card is wrongly given, and look at the possibility of an independent panel discussing the appropriate length of bans for violent conduct. Otherwise tame actions will continue to be punished as harshly as horrific ones. It isn’t right.
Moving on to brighter things, and Walcott and Eduardo are back in the squad for Sunday’s cup game with Burnley. Both have the potential to be key players in the run-in – Walcott was really progressing before his injury (although it will take some time to get back to speed), and the thought of Arshavin feeding Eduardo’s clinical finishing makes me drool with excitement. It promises much.
Cesc is also back in training, and with Rosicky and Adebayor on the mend we may get stronger as the season progresses, rather than fade as we have sometimes done in recent years. It could be a great run-in.
Enjoy the rest of your Friday.