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Monday, February 25, 2008 

Break a leg - or don't, if you happen to be an Arsenal player.

I hardly ever post about football, mostly because it's covered so effusively elsewhere and usually well. Where I think it's fell down so spectacularly this time round is on one of the most fundamental points of the game - the right for players themselves not to have their legs broken, however accidental, mistimed or clumsy the tackle or whatever it is that does the damage.

The horrific injury which Eduardo suffered on Saturday (look on YouTube if you must see it) is one of the most shocking of recent times, except for perhaps the fractured skull suffered by Chelsea's Petr Cech, which I'll return to in a moment. What I object to is the attempt by a large section of the media to minimise what happened to Eduardo, or even to excuse it. David Platt (ex-Arsenal, for God's sake), for example, during Sky's coverage, claimed that the tackle that broke Eduardo's leg wasn't worthy of a red card, while Birmingham City's own Steven Kelly had the audacity to claim that Martin Taylor was only sent off because he had broken Eduardo's leg. For those who missed it, here's the defining photograph, just milliseconds before Taylor connected, that shows just how completely unacceptable and downright dangerous it was:

Mistimed, clumsy, accidental, however you describe it, that is simply a horrendous tackle, as Arsene Wenger originally rightly described it. Anyone who takes such a lunge at a player should be sent off, get a ban lengthier than the current 3 matches and hope above hope that they don't do permanent damage to the player they perform it on. Martin Taylor is said to be distraught with what happened, quite understandably, and the very last thing that should be performed is a witch-hunt against him. Wenger was wrong to originally say it was unforgivable - it was undoubtedly a mistake by Taylor, who is already paying penance beyond what should be expected of him - but by the reaction, both on talkboards, phone-ins and the media itself was almost as if Arsenal had been the villains of the piece.

Imagine if this tackle had broken Wayne Rooney's, Steven Gerrard's or even Ronaldo's leg. There would have been unanimous uproar, Alex Ferguson would undoubtedly have made a far stronger statement that Wenger did if it was the first or the last, and certainly have not retracted it within a matter of hours, and there would have been baying for blood for potentially destroying an England star's career. Most of the assaults or charges of hypocrisy are because of Arsenal's own disciplinary record, which although bad has to my knowledge never involved a player breaking another's bones (excepting Eboue's similarly mistimed challenge on John Terry, which didn't result in a sending off), or because of the reckless challenges in the Man Utd/Arsenal game last weekend. The accusations there sting the most - the way Arsenal players went for Nani after he somewhat showed off his skills, with one player flying in an appalling tackle, not on the scale of Taylor's but certainly nasty, and then Gallas kicking the back of Nani's legs, which was a tap rather than really malicious - all of which should be condemned, but were nowhere near on the scale of danger of that of Taylor's tackle. Wenger is certainly deliberately blind at times when questioned about contentious decisions in matches - but then so is Alex Ferguson, who receives none of the same opprobrium over it. Ferguson has on multiple occasions either defended or excused blatant dives in the penalty area by both Rooney and Ronaldo - yet because he's so tenacious, admired and petulant - he never talks to the BBC for some stupid reason, and does the same to other media if they perform some perceived slight, he gets completely away with it.

To come back to Petr Cech, everyone seems to have already forgotten how Chelsea responded to his fractured skull, the result of a purely accidental clash with Reading's Stephen Hunt. Not only did they continue to maintain that it was deliberate, right up to when the FA cleared Hunt of any responsibility, Jose Mourinho personally laid serious accusations at both Reading and the NHS's door when he said that they had taken their time in calling for an ambulance and then in the ambulance arriving. Chelsea's version of events was destroyed by the South Central NHS trust version, that showed that Chelsea's own doctor didn't consider the injury serious enough for an ambulance to be called until 25 minutes after he reached the dressing room - and the ambulance then arrived within 7 minutes. Chelsea never apologised for the slur on either the club or the NHS.

By that standard, Arsene Wenger's justified fury and emotion, after seeing one of his best player's legs potentially broken beyond repair was mild. That he realised he had got it wrong within a matter of hours and retracted his statements was a sign of how the moment had got the better of him, as I expect it would most of us. His other criticised statement, that teams set out to kick Arsenal in order to stop them playing is a contentious one, but if you look at recent games against Blackburn for example I challenge anyone to disagree with him.

The reports today on how long it will take Eduardo to recover - 9 months if he's very lucky, 12 months if he's merely lucky, never if he's unlucky - show the seriousness of the incident. Footballers are rightly disparaged for being spoilt and overpaid, but Eduardo at 25 faces the nightmare of potentially having his career and livelihood destroyed. The experience of David Busst, who broke his leg and had to retire as a result (in his case I think the pitch was covered in blood in the aftermath, something that thankfully didn't occur with Eduardo's injury), and which has been all over the press is a chastening one. It ought to show those that have downplayed Eduardo's injury what can happen, even as a result of a dreadful accident or mistimed tackle. Football is a contact sport, and long may it remain so, but such terrifying challenges need to be kicked out of the game. Those attacking Arsenal for their response ought to examine how they'd feel if it happened to a player in their team before they launch attacks on the most majestic footballing side in the country.

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I believe you mean Martin Taylor and not 'Martin Kelly' (third paragraph).

Fergie has refused to talk to the BBC ever since the Panorama documentary on football agents -- Ferguson's son, Jason, was one of the agents accused of corruption.

What was so outrageous about the media coverage of the Eduardo incident is the complete silence following the dreadful remarks from Alex McLeish and Stephen Kelly. They had the gall to say the red card was "harsh"! Instead, Wenger and Gallas have been painted as villains of the piece for understandable emotional outbursts.

The Sky coverage, as usual, was awful.

"Anyone who takes such a lunge at a player should be sent off, get a ban lengthier than the current 3 matches and hope above hope that they don't do permanent damage to the player they perform it on"

and possibly arrested or detained for questioning; or don't the laws of this country apply during 'sports'?

I do like the correlation between liking the Arsenal and being a decent blogger, guys.

Ferguson doesn't talk to the Beeb partly because of Panorama but IIRC there's a long-running feud between United and Alan Green, who was deemed not sufficiently obsequious enough (this might have been post-Treble season where he said Arsenal had played the best football that year, or possibly a cheeky question in a press conference when you're expected to lob easy ones for the Great Purple Faced One to bat back).

Oh, and of course there's been a season long narrative the media keep going back to which is framed in terms of Arsenal not winning the league ('crisis at the Emirates' whenever we let in a goal and similar bollocks). They don't *want* us to win, it upsets them. They want decent, British teams like Chelsea or Man Utd to win, you know, ones owned by Russians or Americans.

I really, really hope we can ram it back up them come May. It's like the old days.

Yes, I do of course mean Martin Taylor not Kelly. Major fuck up there, will correct.

I have to disagree slightly on this occasion.

Having seen the incident a few times, while there was no doubt it deserved a straight red it was what would usually be called a 'genuine footballing incident'.

Its one of those unfortunate ones where the player did make a genuine effort to play the ball rather than going deliberately for the man and had he got the ball he would probably have made the MOTD highlights as an example of good strong tackle.

As it turned out, he was bit late and Eduardo a bit too quick and we end up with a sad and horrific injury.

Yes, there's a broader issue about some clubs deliberately roughing up the opposition to make up for a lack of quality but I think that bad as this one looks it genuinely is one of those 'shit happens' things that we all hate to see but which sadly happens from time to time.

"...but if you look at recent games against Blackburn for example I challenge anyone to disagree with him." Hey, it's the only way we're able to compete with you lot - if we let you keep hold of the ball, you destroy us!

Joking aside, you do have a bit of an over-the-top (albeit understandable) reaction to the incident. It was - as Unity puts it - a "genuine football incident" - a mis-timed tackle and there was certainly no malice on Taylor's part. It comes across as - how should I put it? - a Sun leader column... :-(

Let's hope there's no permanent damage to Eduardo. Let's hope it's more of a Henrik Larsson than a David Busst.

Well, I admit the last sentence is a just slightly partisan, but I think it's stretching it a bit to call it of Sun leader column quality. I was unhappy with the reaction of the press and tv, which not so long back was going on alarming about "two-footed tackles" and how someone was going to get seriously hurt. This wasn't two-footed, but someone got seriously hurt, however accidentally; and everyone seems to think Arsenal's understandable response is more of a problem than the apologists saying it wasn't even a red card offence.

To a certain extent I do have to wonder if some of the efforts to downplay the circumstances in which Eduardo was injured weren't more of a reaction to Wenger's initial comments, which were a bit excessive, than to the tackle itself.

The two-footed tackle is a bit of different matter as I see it, not least because I can't understand why or how anyone would try to tackle someone in that matter. In my younger footie playing days I played either as a full back or as a ball-winning midfielder and can honestly say that not only did I never go in to a tackle two-footed but it would not have even occurred to me go in that way because it's not how you tackle - you got no control at all.

Oddly enough, on thing I do have to wonder is whether there's a sense in which some of this is consequence of there having been too much emphasis on trying to protect the 'flair players' to the extent that not only are many players not being taught how to tackle correctly - it is skill in itself and one I personally have always appreciated - but that its created a footballing culture in which strikers and wide players, in particular, have come to expect that they'll be looked after by the ref to the detriment of looking after themselves.

Many still look back to the 70's as the era of on-field thuggery and yet bad injuries like this we relatively rare precise because players knew what they we likely to be in for and played accordingly. It seems like its not just art of tackling that's in decline but also the art of riding a tackle, especially as players seem almost allow themselves to take a whack in order get the free kick

I'm not suggesting we should go back to how things were back then, only that certain skills that were once commonplace are now much rarer than they used to be.

Oh, I quite agree. Some of the more thoughtful commentators did indeed say just that in the aftermath of the short apparent increase in their use.

It's also more than true that players increasingly get away with play-acting when they've been so much as touched; anyone who watched Drogba's antics at the weekend in the Carling Cup final, who on multiple occasions when maybe slightly fouled went down as if he had been shot couldn't fail to agree. Arsenal have certainly been guilty of that on occasion, although I don't think we've got the worst divers by any means.

I don't have a problem with teams deciding the way to play against a certain opposition is to kick them; that ought to be accepted. It's when the referee doesn't accordingly book and act when it happens that needs to be looked into. Oh, and I hope the number of comments on this isn't an indictment of the main content of this blog ;)

So I guess the answer to my question is no Common Assault doesn't count when it occurs during 'sport'

"A battery is committed when a person intentionally and recklessly applies unlawful force to another."

Was there any investigation as to whether the player could have been deemed to be acting intentionally?

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