5 words that could be abbreviated to two: “Cop Out”. Much has been said over the weekend and on podcasts all over the web about the two horrific challenges this weekend. The debate has raged about the players, the tackles and the intent; and a divide is evident. Some (somehow) are defending the players involved and if one tweet is to be believed one was blaming Ben Arfa for not getting out of the way. The divide in my opinion is drawn down a particular line those who have played the game and those who have not. Graham Poll, Raphael Honigstein and bloggers have all decried the tackles yet Ray Parlour, Brian Kidd and Lee Dixon have tried to lessen the outrage. However on all sides the first joke made about these tackles is when the old adage above will be rolled out, as we can see from the quotes it usually is but what does it even mean?
When it is said it is to try to mitigate the personal damage to the player who has committed the offence, it is to try to indicate that the player would never normally break someone’s leg and that this instance was a fluke. However it is very rare that a player actually tries to break another’s leg, the problem is not intending to break a leg but intending to hurt the other player. The old adage’s ‘they don’t like ’em up ’em’ & ‘let him know you’re there’ are mentioned on the stands and in the post match reports (see any time Arsenal lose in the north). Whilst it is an accepted tactic it is how it is applied rather than when which is the problem. Roy Keane was excellent in doing this, he would often hit a player hard in the early part of a game and leave a seed of doubt in that players mind each time they receive a pass. However Keane would keep in control of his body, he would be strong but not reckless the same cannot be said of Henry’s lunge. You must keep in mind that though Keane was a fine player he was also guilty of the same issues laid out here, particularly when he targeted Alf Inge Haaland in a sickening attack.
The art of tackling has been lost of late United, Chelsea and Arsenal do not have the presence of a Keane. However the role has changed to that of a dedicated enforcer, no longer the rangy box-to-box roles that he and Vieira exemplified. De Jong, Henry, N’Zonzi, Muamba and Poulsen are the players involved in stopping the other team play. I have not changed my opinions but the players involved in this role need to appreciate the difference between a tackle and assault. As I indicated in the article I’ve linked to, the pace of the game has removed the role of the box-to-box midfielders and necessitates the dedicated defensive midfielder, the side effect is that the players are now so quick and nimble that these players can be extremely late in their tackles. With enough force this can create the problems seen this season. The first two quotes above relate to central defenders who entered tackles with too much force, the final was because of a tackle not a foul.
The thing that confuses me is the mentality that these players take in the modern game. Their role will often get the crowd on their feet as they win the ball or execute a well timed foul to prevent a breakaway. However, players will take this to mean that the role comes with a level of aggression which left unchecked can lead to the problems witnessed over the last year. It is up to the managers to stop these players from becoming frustrated in games or from getting too aggressive and throwing themselves into tackles. A tackle should be made on your feet with the sliding tackle reduced to a ‘last resort’. Players who leave their feet need to appreciate the risks and the backlash from the media. The term ‘not that sort of player’ is particularly galling as usually he is precisely that type of player, that’s the reason he is deployed in that role. The manager’s should also take some responsibility and say they are apalled by the tackles and wish to see them out of the game but this won’t happen as their role is to protect their club and their team but the game is the overall loser in these circumstances.
These words will ring hollow for Ben Arfa, Gomez and Aaron Ramsey who for all intents and purposes play the game well and to the best of their ability and it is hopefully how they will continue to play. As many have pointed out we have not seen these injuries in Holland, Spain and Italy where games are played at a slower pace and as Ollie Irish of www.whoateallthepies.tv was first to point out the problem stems from the overt physicality of the league and teams training. The problem, however, is not a new one, it has been a part of the game since inception but the move to the modern game has led to injuries being the result of these tackles. The issue is systemic and young players will continue to have their career’s placed in danger as long as players and managers hide behind the biggest lie in modern football “He’s not that type of player“.