Before I start I should probably warn you that this could be classed as a rant, an interesting rant though I hope you’ll agree. It is a topic that has been discussed much before, but now I feel it has gone to a new level and as such English football is suffering dearly. Now in no way do I want to go back to the days when defenders used to give strikers a good kick for ninety minutes (although El Hadji Diouf could do with a bit of that) and I want creative players to be protected to some extent, but not to the detriment of football in such a way that players can no longer tackle without a fear of being sent off.
The tipping point for this argument in fact came in an FA Cup match, but similar examples can be taken from the Premier League every weekend. The player in question is Newcastle’s Cheik Tiote, a player who likes a tackle for sure, but can hardly be classed as a malicious player. Tiote was slightly foolish to jump into a challenge in the second half against Stevenage, but he didn’t go in with two feet, unlike Steven Gerrard against Manchester United on Sunday (for which I thought Stevie G deserved to go), and most importantly he won the ball, a fact that seems to be lost on many Premier League referees these days.
Despite winning the ball, Tiote’s challenge was considered to be reckless – something that you could argue in regards to any sliding challenge, and Andre Marriner wasted no time in brandishing a red card. In my opinion Newcastle manager Alan Pardew was spot on in his assessment of the situation, saying that “he (Tiote) was aggressive in the challenge but in no way was he intending to hurt the player.” Newcastle of course appealed but to no avail, which is hardly surprising as the FA is keen to stick by referees, but this is just the latest example of tackling becoming a dying art in the English game.
I can see some thinking behind the FA’s decision to clamp down on bad tackles as a means to try and minimise injuries, but of course it often isn’t the worst tackles that result in horrific injuries. I come back to Newcastle again and Nigel de Jong’s tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa. The Manchester City midfielder made what seemed to be a fair challenge; even after watching the replay from many angles it’s hard to tell whether there was any malice in the challenge. De Jong won the ball, didn’t show his studs, yet Ben Arfa suffered a leg break; unlucky on the part of the Frenchman, but part and parcel of football.
There have been some horrific tackles in recent years, with the one on Arsenal’s Eduardo at the forefront on many people’s minds, but tackles like that one seem to have been taken out of all context. Now it takes very little for a referee to show a red card; diving in with two feet off the floor, is now almost a guaranteed sending off. In fact in that respect it’s pretty irrelevant whether the tackler wins the ball or not, which cannot be right, can it?
This weekend sees three of the great rivalries in English football: Liverpool v Everton, Sunderland v Newcastle and Birmingham v Aston Villa. Many football fans will be tuning in to watch some great play, but what marks these games out from the rest is the passion that is on show and in turn that commitment that is illustrated through tough tackles. Derbies would be lesser spectacles without tough tackling, just as the Premier League is, but I fear that we’re already at a place where great tackles are punished if they’re considered ‘dangerous’, whatever that means. By all means send people off for bad tackles, but please don’t brandish almost every sliding tackle ‘dangerous’, the game will certainly suffer for it. Rant over!