Vincent Kompany would have received praise and admiration for his well-timed, ball-winning tackle, which helped avert the danger posed by Jack Wilshere’s probing run.
Escaping punishment would have been the least of the Manchester City captain’s worries in an age when the likes of Ron “Chopper” Harris and Norman “Bites Yer Legs” Hunter may even have criticised him for leaving the Arsenal midfielder unscathed.
Kompany’s tackle in his side’s 2-0 Premier League victory at the Emirates was inch-perfect. A combination of competence and bravery to skilfully dispossess Wilshere, whose close control would normally have seen him knock the ball to the side, drawing in the foul.
The margin for error was high, but Kompany showed great technique to execute his challenge, just one of many reasons why the Belgian international is regarded as a natural leader and worthy of his captain’s armband at Eastlands.
The red card he received as a result of what Alan Hansen quite rightly labelled “just about the perfect tackle” was a worrying refereeing decision, which thankfully was overturned by the FA.
Nevertheless, the original judgement from Mike Dean to dismiss Kompany is undoubtedly a product of the modern-day climate, in which tackling is punished to the extreme.
The FA rules state that for a player to be guilty of serious foul play (a sending off offence), he must use excessive force or brutality. It further states that any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball should be handed the red card.
Yes, the challenge was a firm one, as was necessary for Kompany to dispossess Wilshere effectively. But it was certainly not excessive or brutal.
Furthermore, he does not lunge towards the onrushing Wilshere, but essentially stands his ground, lifting up his back foot in the process.
To agree with former Manchester City and Germany midfielder Dietmar Hamann, Kompany did not intend to harm Wilshere by lifting up his back foot, as would have been the case if the front foot were raised, but instead to avoid being harmed.
Players run the risk of sustaining horrific injuries, when their feet are planted in the ground. A most noticeable case was that of Eduardo da Silva. The former Arsenal striker suffered a broken left fibula and open dislocation of his left ankle, as his leg gave way under the pressure of Martin Taylor’s bruising challenge in a match against Birmingham.
Kompany’s tackle was far better timed than Taylor’s, but the red card was brandished all the same.
Wilshere too has been a victim of this unfortunate trend to punish tackling excessively. The yellow card he harshly received for a well-executed tackle at Wigan in December was similarly disappointing.
In essence, the game’s most skilful tacklers are being punished for their ability to perform the sorts of interventions referees consider dangerous if they go wrong.
The FA needs to tell referees not to be thinking cautiously “What if?”, but rather give credit where credit is due. The former approach can only give rise to a low-risk and less competitive way of playing football, making fundamental changes (for the worse) to the game we grew up knowing and loving.
In reaction to his sending off, Kompany tweeted:
“Ultimately I’m a defender: Appeal may work or not. I will never pull out of a challenge, as much as I will never intend to injury a player.”
Admirable words from a player committed to his principles of playing tough but fair, but he should not have to run the risk of a three-match suspension for doing so.
The game needs to show greater respect to players of Kompany’s ilk to help restore the competitive nature of football. Indeed, the way it is officiated at present, one could be forgiven for questioning its status as a limited-contact sport.
Their constant punishment, however, will only exacerbate the issue of a game continuing to lose touch with itself.