Are the days of tackling over?

Manchester United defender, Johnny Evans and Liverpool midfielder, Jonjo ShelveyFor those younger football fans among us, the art of tackling is something we have never been able to appreciate in all its full-throttle glory. Any slightest hint of contact can often leave a player with a booking, forced to walk on a tightrope for the rest of the match.

After the crunching challenges of yesteryear, tackling is now viewed as a last resort by many players; with interceptions now the preferred method to win the ball back.

A player like Michael Carrick is often criticised for his reluctance to tackle, but he can still be effective in winning the ball back; with his number of interceptions reportedly being the highest in the Champions League in 2010-11, with 48, according to FourFourTwo.

Interceptions appear to be cleaner and run a much lower risk of a booking or sending off if mistimed. This is one of the reasons why tackling is gradually being phased out of the game; another being the factor of inconsistency among referees as to what constitutes as a fair challenge and what is deemed as reckless.

The most recent high-profile example comes from the clash between Liverpool and Manchester United, where Jonjo Shelvey and Jonny Evans launched into a 50-50 challenge for the ball.

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Referee Mark Halsey judged Shelvey as the guilty party and assumingly assessed that the Liverpool midfielder had endangered Evans’ safety with the challenge, but those of us who saw the tackle would find it difficult to find one party guiltier than the other. It would be hard to imagine such a challenge being deemed worthy of sending off 10 years ago, especially not before the 1990s.

It seems that as football becomes more continental, fewer challenges of a more physical nature are allowed on the pitch, something which definitely favours the country’s more skilful players, but hinders those whose jobs it is to stop goalscoring opportunities.

Some say that play-acting and diving has also contributed to the downfall of tackling; with forward players now seeking to con officials by going down too easily.

Therefore, professionals of yesteryear would not last a minute in the modern day game – can you imagine how many red cards legendary 70s Leeds hardman, Billy Bremner or former Wimbledon defender Vinnie Jones would receive in a season?

It all seems to mean that the days of tackling are now gradually coming to an end, but perhaps we should not become too downbeat about the situation, with many defenders now viewing staying on their feet as a particular skill. Players like Rio Ferdinand now see making tackles as a last-ditch option, something which would only arise if he had not of read the game well enough.

So in future, defensive players may strive to make the perfect interception rather than the perfect tackle as football evolves into more of a non-contact sport.

You can follow me on twitter: @JamesHilsum


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