English football losing its identity?

Few tackles in recent memory have caused as much debate as the one Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany received a red card for during the FA cup tie with United. Chris Foy the referee has never been a personal favourite of mine, yet after the weekend I came to the conclusion that Foy does not, as I had originally thought, have it in for Chelsea, he is just a poor referee in general, having yet another shocking game.

Foy’s performance aside, which is something that could be debated for all of eternity, the red card has prompted mass debate and perhaps the most eloquent statement of all time from a footballer who’s IQ is higher than his shirt number.

Kompany in the wake of his appeal being rejected and a four match ban now in place, questioned if there is any room for tackles left in the English game, which he said ‘My understanding is that English football prides itself on the hardness, the fairness and the tradition of its game.’

The Premier League has always had a reputation for hard challenges and physicality, yet now with the stance on tackling in the game, it is arguable that all challenges will soon become eradicated within the game through fear of players being sent off or at the very least cautioned.

It is not just Kompany who has noticed this – fans and pundits have been asking the same question for a few years now, and Robbie Savage – one known for his tackles – has come out and made the accusation that tackling is being killed off, and it is a crime.

Now, whilst you would not serve a prison sentence for a tackle, these days you could well stare down a three match ban, and Robbie is sadly and maybe for the first time ever, actually right in what he is saying, and football fans and indeed players facing the prospect of a game that is virtually no contact.

In reality Chris Foy could have exercised common sense and chosen not to card the City skipper who cleanly won the ball, but will claim that the intent was there and his hands were virtually tied with what to do, leading to the question of if English football is, as Kompany alluded to, losing its identity with regards to challenges and its ‘hard reputation’ and becoming almost European like in its card happy no challenges state.

Kompany is quite right when he worries what will happen if the game is now judged on ‘ifs and maybe’ as there will of course be a huge amount of cards, and players too scared to tackle. It cannot also go unnoticed that what one referee may think might have happened, another could totally disagree with, and therefore yet another opportunity for total lack of consistency is created.

Yes, if a tackle is two footed and badly timed serious injury can occur, such as the Ryan Shawcross tackle on Ramsey, and this is clearly a tackle worthy of a red, yet how is Kompany’s when a challenge such as the one Carragher made on Nani last year is not?

Again it is a combination of inconsistency from officials not to mention the reaction from players which plays a huge part in the decision of a referee. The increase in foreign players in the game has also made it more likely than ever for cards to be produced, with the imaginary yellow being waved and playacting worthy of Oscars influencing officials decisions.

Can you imagine someone like Ron ‘the chopper’ Harris rolling around on the floor? Even old school defenders such as Terry get up and carry on, but some of the antics we see these days are laughable – again taking away from the very essence of our game.

Martinez stated that all two footed challenges should be red carded, regardless of their outcome, as we have to protect our flair players – but here again I agree with Savage – sometimes a brilliant tackle is as vital as a goal, and this is being taken away from our game. One can only suggest to Mr Martinez that if he feels so strongly about the issue he should take up a job in La Liga – I doubt he would be able to handle the challenges in the Championship – and that is where he seems to be taking Wigan this season.

Kompany feels that it is not the fault of the officials, who he says have been a key part in making the league as watchable as it is – some more for their bloopers than others – but jokes aside, there is an argument to be made that the league is losing its identity, with more and more sendings off and the increasing amount of rules and regulations hampering referees and players, leaving officials no choice to exercise common sense if they want to follow the letter of the law when on the field.

Had Chris Foy chosen not to send Kompany off, it is entirely possible that the FA may have disagreed, United would certainly have made a stance about it and Foy could then have been facing demotion for not following the exact letter of the law when officiating.

In the modern game, referees are becoming almost frightened of doing anything wrong, not just due to fans reactions, but also that of the FA and the real chance of being struck off or demoted if they are not seen to be coming down hard on certain ‘buzz topics.’

It is fair to say that two footed challenges are certainly one of the things the FA have tried to clamp down on, and referees have therefore been ever more card happy when in doubt, if not to protect the player being challenged, but at the very least to protect themselves from spending the next few games in league 2.

Perhaps it a combination of the increased amount of playacting from footballers now in the Premier League than can con the officials and influence them into making a decision that 10, 15 years ago would not have been and also the FA and their ever growing rule book and sanctions which curb the referees willingness to exercise common sense through fear of recrimination.

Kompany is right – the game is becoming virtually a non-contact one, and that is not what the Premier League is about – and this has to be stopped before we lose what made our game so special in the first place.