Manchester City, Mario Balotelli and his agent are all angry that Balotelli has been slapped with a four match ban by the English FA for stomping on Tottenham Hotspurs midfielder Scott Parker. Balotelli, his club and his agent would have us believe that his boot ended up in Parker’s head solely by accident and the player is simply being persecuted by the FA simply because he is Balotelli.
I agree with Balotelli and his supporters that the FA erred in its decision to hand him a four match ban. In fact, the ban should have been longer. It is about time that football associations everywhere confront the issue of violent conduct against players by other players on the field of play. Had Mario Balotelli’s foot come down directly on Scott Parker’s head it could have resulted in very serious injury to the Spurs player. Thankfully, that was not the case.
We call football the beautiful game and for good reason. However the beauty is slowly being taken away by the beasts of the game and that should not be allowed to continue. The creative artistry of the playmaker is slowly being squeezed out of the game by ultra defensive tactics spearheaded by skill deficient midfield enforcers whose sole role on the field of play is to chop down opponents of class and skill.
Hard tackling midfielders who break up plays and get their own teams offence started are not the issue here. Patrick Vieira, during his heyday at Arsenal, was the quintessential midfield hard man, but he was a wonderful box to box midfielder who did it all, as was Roy Keane at Manchester United and Claude Makalele at Chelsea — even though he was not blessed with the skill of Vieira and Keane.
Football fans pay good money to watch the Messi’s, Ronaldo’s, Silva’s, Mata’s and Suarez’s dazzle us with their skill, even when they are playing against the teams we support. The real football fan appreciates class and artistry no matter who the player or for whom he plays a fact exemplified by Madridistas in November 2005 inside the Bernabeu when they gave a standing ovation to Barcelona’s Ronaldinho for his breathtaking display even though that display condemned Real Madrid to a 3-0 defeat in el Clasico.
Clubs are supposed to back their players however, when a player intentionally sets out to hurt another player, a line must be drawn. Manchester City should be careful in their stance. After all, its was little over a year ago that Nigel de Jong broke the leg of Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa with a senseless tackle for which he was never sanctioned, neither on the field or off. Their argument that they are being targeted because of the suspensions of Vincent Kompany and Mario Balotelli is therefore baseless.
A cursory look around the Premier League reveals a real lack of creative artistry. Outside of a select few players led by Juan Mata, Luis Suarez, Hatem Ben Arfa, David Silva and a certain Mario Balotelli, the Premier League lacks players blessed with dazzling skill. This situation is however not exclusive to the Premier League and is a blight on all the major European Leagues.
The Premier League must take the lead however and bring the hammer down on what is tantamount to the desecration of the beautiful game. The message must be loud and clear, violent conduct will not be tolerated by any player. Those of us who pay to watch this game of ours understand that we will not see the purists on a regular basis but we are also sure that we do not want to see the likes of Pepe at any time.