Football has no doubt drastically changed in the last fifteen years. The influx of foreign players, greater financial investment, sports science and the styles of play have all added to the global appeal of the English Premier League; making it the most watched and most admired football league in the world.
However many football supporters have argued that many English traditions of the ‘beautiful game’ are being lost, particularly the ‘dying art’ of tackling.
Stuart Pearce, Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira were all revelled for their tough tackling and no-nonsense attitude on the pitch. Pearce, who was nicknamed ‘Psycho’, stated that the game used to be “ludicrously physical” and that “The movement of players is much cleverer, in the old days wingers would just stand out on the wing, now they come off the line and the game’s much quicker. You have to be much cleaner with your tackling and that probably exposes the tackling as well. But let the referees deal with it. It is not for (the public) to act as judge and jury”.
Referees have a vital job to do in offering protection to the players on the field of play. The pace of the game is certainly quicker and referees have a tough job in judging the severity of a ‘bad’ tackle. However, some challenges are dangerous and the financial costs of a serious injury involving a bad tackle can be staggering, and often damaging to the financial security many clubs.
The case of Dexter Blackstock highlights an intriguing viewpoint into how tackling has perhaps become a contentious aspect of the game which is stuck in a grey area. Nottingham Forest striker, Blackstock, is seeking high court damages from ex- Cardiff City defender Seyi Olofinjana due to a ‘negligent tackle’. The tackle sidelined Blackstock for 15 months and has left the footballer with considerable damage which could determinate and shorten the length of his career.
Blackstock is currently seeking damages for being deprived of 15 months earnings as well as further compensation should the injury end his career. The amount has not been specified in the writ but it is reported to exceed £50,000.
The Forest striker’s barrister, Jonathan Crystal, stated that Olofinjana “raised his foot” and “played Mr Blackstock rather than the ball” which then concluded in him “failing to control his momentum”.
Olofinjana denies the charges and the case has not yet been put before a judge.
Footballers are now trained to stay on their feet as much as possible which focuses more on the skill of possession play rather than aggression and no-holds barred tackles. Of course, footballers sometimes play into the hands of referees by feigning injury or even diving which the industry are beginning to clamp out as much as possible. All footballers have a duty of care to their fellow professionals but no fan wants to see the day where footballers will not attempt an honest tackle due to the fear of being sent off.
With referees being as cautious as ever and players attempting to dupe the officials; tackling may have taken a back seat but every footballer supporter knows that witnessing a well-timed tackle can be just as good as seeing a thirty yard screamer. Sadly football’s hard men are a dying breed.