Why aren’t players allowed to tackle any more? Soccer 365’s Howard Johnson voices his concerns that over-zealous refereeing might see the end of one of football’s finest sights, two players crunching into contact!
The issue of nasty tackles has been making Manchester City headlines of late after the sending off of skipper Vincent Kompany led to an FA Cup loss at home to Manchester United in the FA Cup and a four-match ban for our inspirational leader. Nasty tackle? It may not be co-incidence that the subject is on the agenda in the weeks when Paul Scholes made a return to United after his self-imposed exile. Scholes has always been known as a midfielder who could barely tackle legally, but he’s also the man who was caught on camera with his meat and two veg hanging out the side of his shorts in (I seem to remember) the 1996 FA Cup Final against Liverpool. Nasty tackle indeed! But I digress into murky and, frankly, willy-related waters. Quick. Let’s get back on message!
So, Kompany... The first issue is whether the tackle that got him the red card was merited. I don’t really care what the rule book says. If that tackle deserved a straight red, then it’s time to stop watching professional football and take up knitting. You may accuse me of having watched the game through blue-tinted specs, but there’s no way that Kompany had any other idea in his head apart from to win the ball in that challenge with Nani. Were his studs showing? Were his feet off the ground? Frankly, who cares? Anyone who’s played the game at any level would know that there was nothing malicious in the challenge and that it was a genuine and wholehearted attempt to win the ball. Unless you’re Wayne Rooney, of course. But his opinion doesn’t count, because his blatant attempts to influence the ref’s decision should have been rewarded with a card themselves.
Then to make matters worse, when City played their Carling Cup semi-final game against Liverpool three days later defender Glenn Johnson was guilty of a two-footed, off-the-ground challenge that looked potentially nastier then the Kompany tackle and yet the Liverpool defender received nothing more than a verbal warning from the ref, much to the chagrin of the City supporters in the Etihad Stadium. I personally thought Johnson’s challenge, like Kompany’s, deserved at most a yellow. Football is supposed to be a contact sport and most of us know the difference between wholehearted or clumsy and deliberately nasty and malicious. If we carry on this way and make it impossible to challenge for the ball 100 per cent without a fear in the back of a player’s mind that he’s risking dismissal, then we’ll soon end up with a sport where the tackle is no longer part of the skill set required.
Now of course I’m not advocating a return to the days in the 1970s where each team had a hired assassin. There was nothing glorious in the systematic brutalising of George Best, Rodney Marsh and their ilk by players like Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris and Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter. Their USP was destruction, but some of their tackles were simple thuggery. Protecting players like Best and Marsh, true footballing artisans, would have been hugely welcome and would most likely have extended their careers – and hence our enjoyment – by many years. Better refereeing and intolerance of wanton on-the-field vandalism means that players like David Silva can flourish. And that can only be a good thing. But a challenge like Kompany’s in the Man United game would have been dismissed as ‘powder puff’ by Harris and Hunter, barely worth a free kick, never mind any kind of caution. Surely there’s a happier medium than the situation we find ourselves in now, where anything approaching contact is immediately viewed with suspicion. Look at the amount of times a ref blows in favour of a goalkeeper at corner time. Ridiculous. A man who has the use of his hands surely needs less protection than the outfield players, not more!
People talk about the need for consistency in decision-making from referees and to a certain extent they’re right. But the fundamental issue is to look at the rule book and see whether in our genuine attempts to keep skill in the game, we haven’t taken one of football’s finest skills out of it. A full-blooded tackle without malicious intent is one of the greatest sights you’ll ever see in a football match. It’s just about the only part of the game that remains gladiatorial. And I for one need my football to remain physical. When two people come into contact there’s always a chance that an injury will happen, but nobody on my veterans football team complains. Everyone knows it’s a calculated risk that you take every time you lace your boots up. Professional footballers should accept that possibility just like everyone else does.
Roberto Mancini insisted that he was ‘300% sure’ that Kompany’s challenge on Nani wasn’t a red card offence. The FA disagreed when an appeal was lodged and the four-game ban remained in place. How much losing their best defender will harm City’s season is anyone’s guess. But I’m less bothered about that than I am about the idea that before we know it we’ll be watching football where tackling – nasty or otherwise – is all but outlawed. And that’s when I’ll start hunting down the knitting needles.
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