At 2-0 down, West Ham showed some good character to fight back against Leicester this weekend. No, I haven’t turned into Brendan Rodgers, vainly trying to persuade whoever might be willing to listen that the team did well in defeat and that results don’t seem to matter as much as the heart of the team. Curiously, Liverpool aren’t in the Champions League this season.
But West Ham were a little unlucky. And so was Adrian, the goalkeeper, who was sent off in the final seconds of the game.
That’s not to say that West Ham were unlucky to lose the game because the red card played a part. It didn’t. They’d already lost, it was that late on. But it is to say that they’re unlucky that they’ll lose their keeper for the next three games. Maybe I sounded a little like a deluded Brendan Rodgers when I said West Ham showed good character, but I may sound even more deluded in a second when I claim that Adrian’s six studs planted into the midriff of Jamie Vardy wasn’t deserving of a red card.
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It’s not because of some odd, Glenn Hoddle-like belief in Karma. I don’t think that Jamie Vardy deserved it for something he’d done in a past life, or for something he did the other week. It’s not because I didn’t think it was dangerous or because I didn’t think it hurt. It’s not even because I think ‘these players today’ are prima donnas who could be doing with a swift kick to the nether regions.
It’s because I think red cards should be red cards.
A red card is the footballing equivalent of capital punishment. When someone does something so utterly awful that we just don’t think they should be on the pitch any more. They’re sent off when we think that they’re a danger to other players, when the thought of that man staying on the pitch after what he just did is just the most revolting thing you can think of. Red cards are for Luis Suarez bite frenzies and – not for the faint-hearted, by the way – Kurt Zouma leg-breakers (and ankle and foot-breakers too). They are not for what Adrian did on Saturday.
Sure, it was dangerous. Football is a dangerous game. In a perfect world, Adrian would not have made the contact he did with Vardy. But a red card seems a little excessive to me. Not because it wasn’t that dangerous – it probably was – but because he didn’t mean it. If a red card is a footballing execution, then Adrian doesn’t deserve it. And certainly not on the same scale as Suarez and Zouma.
The West Ham keeper had his eyes on the ball the whole way, the second he looked down and saw where his foot was heading was the second he realised that Vardy was standing only centimetres away from his studs. By then it was just too late. It wasn’t like De Jong’s kung fu kick on Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final of 2010, which almost certainly merited a red card, it was more like Nani’s red card against Real Madrid at Old Trafford which almost certainly did not merit a red card.
Why? Because of intent. Because of maliciousness, and because of common sense. If we’re going to send players off, it should be because what they did was so wrong on a football pitch. But sometimes we have to accept that a football pitch is a dangerous place. Sometimes there’s no intent to hurt someone, but it just turns out that way. If Adrian had been looking at Vardy the whole way, then we could say it was a deserved red. Instead, he’s looking at the ball, deliciously unaware of where his leg is about to go. He’s just trying to get to the ball. And if we’re going to dish out capital punishment for that, we’re going too far down a path we don’t want to be going down.
He made a mistake and it was a foul, but if that’s a red card then so is every mistimed tackle and every accidental collision. If we start punishing people for mistakes then we’re going to have no one left on the pitch.
West Ham were unlucky to lose the game at the weekend, but they’re even more unlucky to lose their goalkeeper for three games. They’re expected to appeal against the decision, and I for one hope they’re successful. Not because Adrian is completely innocent – it was a foul and it was dangerous play – but because we shouldn’t give red cards for mistakes.
Sometimes football pitches are just dangerous places to make a living.