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.
Labels: Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, Eduardo, football, horrendous tackles, hypocrisy, media coverage, non-politics