Full-blooded tackles used to epitomise English football, they were part and parcel of the game. But now it seems iconic images such as Terry Butcher’s blood-soaked shirt are a million miles away from today’s game.
Just a few weeks ago this opening line could’ve escalated into a vicious rant about the questionable decision made at the Emirates, but thankfully for the sake of Kompany and the game alike, common sense prevailed to what many adjudged, a fair tackle.
But however you interpreted Mike Dean’s decision, he was merely acting against rules from above. And that worries me.
FIFA’s law states: “Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one of both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.” The rule’s clear, but there’s still a degree of uncertainty and it’s this uncertainly that raises debate between football lovers up and down the country.
And the debate continues yet again this week, as the FA’s decision to clear Glenn Whelan’s two-footed lunge on Javi Garcia at the weekend, is in stark contrast to FIFA’s law. He wasn’t in control of his body and excessive force was certainly a factor of the tackle, so how did this go unpunished both during and after the game, whereas Kompany’s didn’t? Albeit, his was rescinded a few days later.
Only a few years ago, Kompany’s tackle would’ve been praised; his leg (not legs) was not high, his eyes remained fixed and he was first to the ball. Whelan’s was none of the above. And as much as I’m in favour of a meaty challenge, you can’t be too sure how the officials are going to react, you only have to compare the two events for evidence of that.
Now, I don’t want to pinpoint these two individual incidents as the cause of my worry for tackling within English football, but the stark contrast between the decisions made certainly highlights the problems referees are currently facing; confusion from the top, harassment from managers calling for better protection – all while helping to retain the game’s frantic pace.
It’s a difficult job I don’t envy, but surely the contradictive decisions made by the FA, as they overturn red cards such as Kompany’s, sends out mixed messages to both referees and players? Referees will surely have assessed both incidents and now begin to question their future decisions; should the ref continue to punish a player when the FA is likely to undermine his judgment? I don’t believe Howard Webb’s decision to keep Whelan on the field, was for fear his decision would be overruled by the FA. But it’s the severe lack of consistency and clarity in the game that’s now begs the question; is the art of tackling sadly descending towards extinction in a bid to make referees jobs easier? It’s certainly one explanation of many.
The bruisers of the game
The English game was once the toughest in the world, for foreign players moving over, dealing with the likes of Roy Keane, Vinnie Jones and Stuart Pearce was half their problem – these players weren’t afraid to put a boot in, unfortunately for all those old-skool footballers amongst you, the days of this type of player are significantly numbered. And although I’m not condoning the force they often applied to succeed, I feel as though by censoring the game, becoming stricter and punishing those who’ve mastered the art of tackling, the FA are essentially ripping the heart and soul of the English game from within it.
And that’s a pity, a physical duel can often be as exciting as a free-kick smashed in from 25-yards, it lifts the crowd and I’ve noticed the subtle changes in the game over the years. Even when I started out with Manchester City there was a degree of physicality, but you begin to notice the decline, referees would pull you up for less and less each season. And it’s become ever more apparent since moving to France too, the English game was once the heavyweight champ, now it’s just a contender for the belt. European teams are more than capable of holding their own against English teams now, and this is surely down to the influx of International players within the Premier League.
With over 60% of the Premier League now foreign, I believe this international influence has finally riddled a league where native’s are no longer president, instead it’s been adapted and manipulated to fulfill the needs of those international stars. The skill and flair they bring helps mold the Premier League into what makes it so great, unfortunately the protection of these players is paramount to crunching tackles, which although lifts the crowd, doesn’t bide well with the array of technically gifted superstars.
We drool over Messi’s ability to skip past his opposition, we envy the way Van Persie strikes the ball, but there’s a dying admiration for tackling. And unfortunately, players that once bullied their opponent to gain the advantage, have become obsolete to the modern game.