I was staggered to read Ryan Shawcross’s contribution to the discussion about dangerous tackling. In the week in which Bobby Zamora and Hatem ben Arfa both suffered very serious injuries caused by so-called ‘full blooded’ tackles, Shawcross had this to say:
“The likes of Henry and de Jong, I’m sure, didn’t go out to injure another player on purpose. It’s part and parcel of football. They are tough-tackling central midfielders whose games are based on making tackles, winning the ball and then giving it to the ball-players. Sometimes injuries are caused.
“You have just got to accept in these times, with the ball moving so fast and the player moving so fast, you are going to mis-time tackles. That is when injuries can happen.”
Essentially this arrogant buffoon, this poltroonish ignoramus is saying that he has no intention of changing the way he plays.
Despite having watched Aaron Ramsey carried off with his leg snapped in four (tibia – two parts, fibula – two parts), despite putting Francis Jeffers out for three months with ligament damage, despite putting Emmanuel Adebayor out for weeks with a malicious foul that wasn’t even on the field of play, Shawcross sees no reason to do things differently. Which will mean more ligaments damaged and more legs broken in the future.
Don’t you love his use of the impersonal voice?: “Sometimes injuries are caused.” Caused by whom Ryan? Some mysterious third force? An act of God? The Hoof Fairies?
No, you festering noodledick, they are caused by YOU and the rest of your brave fellows from the British Donkey Society (motto: Not Good, Not Fast, But We Kick Like Mules).
Then there’s the admission that he’s going to carry on hurting people because he’s too slow: “…with the player moving so fast, you are going to mis-time tackles. That is when injuries can happen.” Again he uses the impersonal voice to distance himself from the unfortunate outcome of being too slow: “injuries can happen” – when what he should be saying is: “that is when I, and cloggers like me, are likely to injure someone.”
We all know that the likes of Shawcross think that intimidating the opposition by ‘going in hard’ is a legitimate part of the game. And spare me the comparisons with Arsene Wenger’s ‘red period’ when we were top of the sendings off league: I don’t recall an Arsenal player snapping someone’s leg in two during that time.
In fact, while the hard men of 10-15 years ago (the likes of Vieira, Keane, Batty) would undoubtedly try to impose themselves on the opposition, it was in a controlled way without risking career-threatening injuries (I know, I know, Keane on Haaland was appalling but it was a crazy personal vendetta). What seems to have changed is the sheer recklessness with which agricultural midfielders and defenders hurl themselves into challenges.
Being ‘taught a lesson’ by Roy Keane meant you’d be bruised for a week, not sidelined for a year.
The reason for the rise in crazy, career-threatening challenges – a trend I call ‘malicious recklessness’ – appears to be a combination of several factors: the financial stakes involved in Premier League survival for unfashionable clubs, which causes some managers to advocate an ‘anything goes’ policy in games against more skilful opposition; a rise in the technical level of the EPL (thanks largely to the foreign influx) resulting in players who are faster and have better control than previously, making it more difficult for cloggers like Shawcross to compete fairly; the physical condition of today’s players – they are stronger and faster than in previous years, so if they tackle in an uncontrolled manner they are more likely to cause serious harm; a laissez-faire attitude among footballing authorities to the consequences of dangerous play.
Today’s Reckless Ryans and Careless Karls can always say afterwards “I didn’t mean to hurt him” but their recklessness makes the hurting inevitable and they should not be allowed to shirk responsibility for it. If you drive your car at 80mph down a suburban street, you may not intend to kill the little kid who runs out in the road, but try telling that to the judge.
In today’s EPL there are plenty of physical teams who stay within the bounds of legality and common human decency: within the last few weeks Chelsea, West Brom and Sunderland have all played a physical game against Arsenal without resorting to malicious recklessness. Arsene Wenger made no complaints about physicality in any of those games. He is just incredibly consistent about highlighting dangerous play when it occurs.
So what to do?
Well, there is one group of people who, I believe, can really make a difference in the battle to take dangerous rash play out of the game. It’s not the players, it’s not the managers and it’s certainly not the ineffectual stuffed shirts at the FA and FIFA. Tomorrow I’ll explain who they are and what they need to do.