The Premier League is a league which has prided itself on its physicality but recently, that physicality has threatened to descend into downright violence.
In recent weeks, the league has seen a wave of reckless challenges that have come in for strong criticism from fans and media alike. In the centre of the storm are Wolves and Manchester City midfielders Karl Henry and Nigel de Jong who have developed something of a reputation for their hyper-aggressive style of play.
But who is to blame for this malaise that is blighting our game? Danny Murphy seemingly has the answer.
The Fulham captain has laid the blame squarely at the manager’s feet and singled out a handful of teams for particular consideration.
Speaking at the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge, Murphy said that “your manager dictates what the players do, and how you behave”. He then goes on to mention specific teams who adopt a rather more physical approach to the game which “inevitably [leads] to problems”.
“You get managers who are sending their teams out to stop other sides playing which is happening more and more — the Stokes, Blackburns, Wolves. They can say it’s effective and they have got to win games but the fact is their players are so pumped up, there is inevitably going to be problems.”
Murphy’s accusations are nothing new to the aforementioned clubs but they are fresh in the mind for the Fulham player. He has seen reckless challenges from Wolves’ Karl Henry and Stoke’s Andy Wilkinson injure strikers Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele. He has also seen Blackburn’s overt physicality earn them a draw at Ewood Park when El-Hadji Diouf blocked Mark Schwarzer for Blackburn’s opening goal.
But is Murphy right to blame the managers? I’m not sure that he is.
The Premier League is a fiercely competitive league in which it is difficult for any team to get a result. While the top teams are able to recruit a host of technically skilled players to their ranks, the less wealthy have to try and level the playing field somehow. In order to do that, they have to adopt a more physical approach to the beautiful game.
Managers are responsible for the conveying of team instructions to the players and in Stoke, Blackburn and Wolves’ case, there is little doubt that that message is one of physicality. However, the responsibility of executing those instructions falls entirely onto the players on the pitch. It is highly doubtful that managers would deliberately ask their players to injure an opposition player. So if a player crosses the line from good, hard physical play into reckless abandon, they only have themselves to blame.
It is easy to blame the managers for the recklessness of the players. After all, they are the public face of their football club. But the players themselves need to accept responsibilities for their actions; something that Karl Henry has done recently following his red card against Wigan. His admission of responsibility comes as a welcome riposte in the wake of managers and pundits trying to defend their actions by saying “he’s not that type of player”.
To his credit, Wolves boss Mick McCarthy, who had previously defended Henry’s actions gave a frank appraisal of his midfielder’s conduct. He said he had “no argument” with the red card and that Henry’s actions were “ill-judged” and “mistimed”.
Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a system of accountability that has previously been lacking when it comes to controversial tackles. Maybe then will we know the truth behind the tackles.
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