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Tackling the real problem

Arsenal and Croatia striker Eduardo da Silva is 25 today. He will be spending his birthday in hospital after an operation on a double compound fracture of his leg sustained in a tackle by Birmingham defender Martin Taylor on Saturday. He will also no doubt be wondering if he will ever play again – he will certainly not play for Arsenal again this season or for Croatia at Euro 2008 – and if he does whether he will be the same predatory goalscorer he has been over the past couple of years.

A great deal of energy has been expended over the past 48 hours to rush to Taylor’s defence, with comments such as “he’s a gentle giant”, “he hasn’t got a malicious bone in his body” and “he’s absolutely distraught” being used to mitigate his role in the affair.

Conversely, radio phone-in shows like 5 Live’s 606 have been inundated by callers condemning Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger for saying Taylor should be banned for life. It was an excessive and ill-advised comment – and one which Wenger quickly retracted – but perhaps understandable in the immediate aftermath of a highly emotional situation. For all his intellect and air of calmness, a heart beats within Wenger’s chest just as it does within any other football manager’s, and while I for one wish he had never made the comment, I am curious as to why so much vitriol has been directed at one of the victims of the crime rather than its perpetrator.

Quite frankly I’m more disgusted by the less widely reported comments of former Birmingham manager Steve Bruce, who stated that:

Some would say it is not even a yellow card.

Let’s be clear about this. I’ve seen video replays of the tackle and it is evident that Taylor flies in, uncontrolled, from the side with a raised boot and makes contact about hafway between Eduardo’s knee and ankle. It is clearly a red card tackle. There is no sign of malicious intent, but that is neither here nor there: it was reckless and dangerous.

And it’s not just me who thinks that. Here is what Alan Hansen, former Liverpool captain and Match of the Day pundit, had to say about both the tackle and Wenger’s reaction to it:

It is a horrific injury but I think what you’ve got to understand first is that Taylor’s not run 15, 20 yards and jumped in with two feet. He’s made the tackle from a standing start and he’s just been done by a bit of pace … It is a red card, he mistimed the tackle.

I’m glad Arsene Wenger has retracted his initial statement. We’ve all been there and emotions run high. In 1987, Jim Beglin broke his leg against Everton. I was the captain of Liverpool, he was my room-mate, and it was a horrific injury. I said things after the game that possibly I shouldn’t have said, and I do regret saying them. You could see how the Arsenal players were with this horrific injury and emotions run high, you say things that later on you regret. Arsene has made this statement, he’s cleared it up and hopefully that’s the end of it.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was only the third minute of the game, it was a sending-off offence. (And, even as an Arsenal fan, if it had been Eduardo committing the same foul on Taylor, I would have had no problem with a red card either.) A lack of intent does not excuse it, just as a drunk driver who accidentally runs down a pedestrian must bear responsibility for his actions.

Most importantly, I hope now that people realise exactly why the authorities are trying to stamp out dangerous tackles – even though, as Hansen indicates, Taylor’s tackle was some way from being the worst tackle we have ever seen.

And that is exactly the point.

Why is it that so often a clearly intentional, two-footed lunge from a player who has sprinted 20 yards to make a ‘tackle’ in full view of the match officials receives only a yellow card or even goes unpunished in the interests of letting the game flow or not ruining it for spectators by sending a player off?

How often do we justify dangerous and excessively physical challenges with this “it’s a man’s game” clap-trap?

How many more times do we have to witness a David Busst? Or Ben Thatcher‘s assault on Pedro Mendes? Or any of the countless but ultimately harmless two footed-tackles we have witnessed this season?

How many more players have to lie in hospital with shattered bones, wondering whether they will ever play again? Or even if they will be able to walk properly?

Physical contact will always be a part of the game (which is as it should be), as will serious injuries. But for how much longer will we allow players who operate outside the agreed rules of the game to escape suitable punishment? And why do we always insist on defending the perpetrator as much as we sympathise for the victim?

On a positive note for Eduardo, we have seen the likes of Djibril Cisse and Alan Smith recover fully from equally serious leg injuries, and while Busst’s career-ending injury was similar, what ultimately did for him was not the broken bones but the complications caused by post-op infections (he contracted the MRSA super-bug).

For now, it seems that the operation went well and the current prognosis is that Eduardo could be playing again within 9 months, barring further complications. I’m sure all right-thinking football fans will join me in wishing him a full and speedy recovery. On a day when I would ordinarily be concerned that Arsenal dropped two vital points thanks to a controversial late penalty, that’s really all that matters.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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