It’s becoming an increasingly rare occurrence for a weekend’s worth of Premier League fixtures to pass without at least one contentious refereeing decision. Challenges that 20 years ago would have received praise from fans, managers and pundits alike are now being frowned upon, as referees step up their stance on the ‘dangerous challenge’.
As a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the game of football, I am becoming a somewhat dying breed. A good strong challenge, or an heroic piece of defensive work, to me, is just as good to watch as almost any goal scored. So this change in stance is one that I find to be particularly worrying, as the effects of trigger-happy referees look to be slowly eroding the art of defending. It can’t be a complete coincidence that we are in the midst of one of the highest scoring campaigns for quite some time, during a spell when the powers that be are overhauling one of the oldest arts in the game.
The likes of Vincent Kompany, Rory Delap and Jay Spearing have all found themselves receiving their marching orders for challenges in which they have won the ball this term, highlighting a trend, which is frustrating many football fans. In the wake of Jack Rodwell’s red card in the Merseyside derby earlier this season, Everton boss David Moyes was particularly critical of the level of officiating:
“I just thought the sending off ruined the game. You get lots of questions from people asking about derbies, tackles and sendings off but that wasn’t even a bad tackle.” Moyes told BBC Sport.
“I don’t even know if we can appeal. I would have been disappointed had it been a free-kick and if he had got a yellow card I think people would have asked ‘what’s that for?’
“There is often talk about the players not doing it right but it wasn’t the players today. Jack is obviously upset. He is a young boy making his way in the game and it was a big day for him.”
Moyes’ words echo the feelings of many football supporters who are becoming increasingly frustrated at the change in the way games are being taken charge of, and the blurring of what is a red card offense and what isn’t. Referees do have a tough job to do, with every mistake pounced upon, and very little praise garnished in the wake of a good performance, but the relinquishing of their power of interpretation for the ‘to the letter of the law’ method is having a major bearing on defensive players, who seem unsure themselves when entering into a challenge.
As a result defenders are walking a tightrope each time they enter the field of play, anxious before they even commit to a challenge leading to shaky performances and sloppy goals. Some may argue that more goals equals more entertainment, and in some cases that can be true, but defending and the sliding are some of the finest art forms of the beautiful game when performed correctly.
Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the safety players who enter the field of play, and don’t want to see a recurrence of incidents such as that of Aaron Ramsey or Djibril Cisse, but to remove tackling from the game would be just as detrimental as removing any attacking aspect.
Bad challenges do occur, and there will always be a risk associated with any contact sport. I just hope that this trend settles down, or we could be looking at the death of defending.
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