Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Weekend Observations 2nd-3rd October 2010: Part 2

Part one here

Another weekend, another debate about tackling. Karl Henry and Nigel de Jong seemed to have set the tongues wagging once more following two examples of the most reckless and dangerous play you are ever likely to see on a football pitch. Karl Henry’s tackle in Wolves’ defeat at Wigan was so unbelievably mistimed he wasn’t even in the same time zone as the very ball he claims he was making an attempt to play. How Jordi Gomez escaped any sort of injury is a minor miracle. Man City’s Nigel de Jong, a player with previous in this department has once again left a fellow professional with his career in the balance after his ‘tackle’ broke the leg of Newcastle’s Hatam Ben Arfa in Sunday’s 2-1 win.

A baffling aspect of this whole situation is the fact that, in their own way, both these players have pretty much got off scot free. A three game ban for Henry barely counts as punishment while de Jong escaped censure completely thanks to Martin Atkinson turning a blind eye to it. Yes, a top flight referee doesn’t deem a leg-breaking assault worthy of any kind of card. Scary stuff.

Even more bewildering are the people that condone of this sort of behaviour. Mick McCarthy has been quick to jump to the defence of his Wolves players this season following accusations of roughhouse tactics in prior matches but even he couldn’t defend Henry this week. Johnny Cochran would have struggled to defend Henry! However, before poor Ben Arfa had even arrived at hospital, Man City assistant gaffer Brian Kidd was already spouting the default nonsense for occasions like this suggesting that de Jong is not ‘that kind of player’. The evidence would suggest the contrary but why take on bored silly things like that, ey Brian? Support for de Jong also came from Dutch teammate and captain Mark van Bommel in the least surprising statement made by anyone in the history of the world ever!

Even during the game, the commentators saw nothing wrong with the fact de Jong lunged in without any regard for Ben Arfa’s safety and wellbeing. The fact that de Jong played the ball is of little consequence. It has never officially been stated that ‘winning the ball’ is licence for dangerous and violent play and anyone who believes this is the case is completely misguided. In this country we harbour this ridiculous ‘man and ball’ mentality where it is generally accepted that if your intentions are good and someone else gets in the way then it’s their own fault. I’m sorry but tackling is a skill like any other in the game. Going to ground to execute a good tackle is not a necessity and a simple rudimentary viewing of any given match will see that a decent challenge involves winning the ball cleanly without leaving your opponent with his leg hanging at obtuse angles.

Another misguided view is that a player “would never go out to ‘do’ a fellow professional” which is absolute nonsense. We’ve all heard the old clichés “let ‘em know you’re there”, “they don’t like it up ‘em” etc. which are all basically instructions to actively go out and physically intimidate your opponents. You may not go out to cripple somebody but you’re a fool if you don’t accept that football players have and will always go out to deliberately hurt one another.

Look at Karl Henry’s reaction on Saturday. He was actually genuinely surprised when the ref produced the red card as if he had no idea what he had done wrong. Despite his subsequent feeble attempt at an apology, you have to wonder if he really at any point believed what he did was acceptable on a football pitch.

So how we stamp this sort of thing out? Simple. Harsher punishments. 6 games? 10 games? 15 games??? Whatever it takes to make a player realise that there are actually consequences to their actions. A severe deterrent to make sure the likes Henry and De Jong among others will think twice before maiming anyone that crosses their path. Well done to Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk for taking a stand (although som emight argue he is part of the problem given the way his side played in South Africa over the summer) and fair play to Newcastle for their stance in demanding retrospective action against the Dutchman although in the interest of fairness, it must be reported that they are hardly shrinking violets themselves...

It’s an unfortunate situation for Ben Arfa who, despite Alan Shearer’s ignorance, is a decent footballer with bags of skill who would have really made a difference to the Newcastle team this season. The attitude seems to be to try and stifle these skillful players with a good hard kick for simply being better.

Another recent arrival to these shores with tons of ability but thankfully not a broken leg (yet) is Rafael van der Vaart who is proving to be somewhat of a revelation at White Hart Lane. Saturday’s one man show against Aston Villa as well as his influence in Europe midweek (pre-sending off of course) makes you wonder why there wasn’t much interest in him from other clubs over the summer. Ok, it’s too early to proclaim him ‘signing of the season’ as some people have despite the Dutchman only being here a matter of weeks. That said, at only £8 million, he’s looking an absolute steal particularly at a club that valued David Bentley somewhere close to £17 million. If Tottenham are to replicate the successes of last season and/or make some waves in the Champions League, you’d have to think that VDV will be an integral part of that. And to think ‘arry didn’t even know he was available.

Gary Lineker fronted a fascinating Inside Sport special on BBC Two on Sunday night entitled Can England Win The Next World Cup? The programme explored the fundamental problems with the English game right now and tried to seek answers as to why we are so guff when it comes to the international game. I won’t ruin the entire programme for you, instead recommending you have a look at it on iplayer while it is still available. One of the fundamental issues explored is the idea of producing a new generation of talented players to lead us into the future. All I can say is that ideas like this brilliant and need to be implemented as soon as possible otherwise, who knows? The time might come when we are so desperate we’re forced to call up Kevin Davies....... Oh!

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