I am not at all surprised that Martin Taylor’s horror tackle on Eduardo (warning graphic content), during Birmingham City’s fortunate 2-2 draw with Arsenal, is being minimised or even dismissed by numerous football pundits in the media. Alan Hansen provided a good example of this attitude with his comments on Match of the Day. (Admittedly, I have little respect for Hansen whom I consider to be one of the biggest fools on television.)
Instead, sections of the media have decided the most worrying aspects of Saturday’s game were Arsene Wenger’s post-match rant calling for Taylor to be ‘banned for life’ (despite the remarks being clear hyperbole and Wenger withdrawing the comments), or William Gallas’ petulant behaviour after the game, when he kicked an advertising hoarding and sat in the centre of the pitch in a foul mood.
As Peter Gill of Football365 noted, what has been totally glossed over, apart from the horrific tackle by Martin Taylor, are the appalling comments from Alex McLeish, Steve Bruce, Stephen Kelly, James McFadden, Liam Ridgewell and Sebastian Larsson, who have all sought to excuse Taylor’s attack on Eduardo. Kelly and McLeish were particular disgraceful in their comments, calling Martin Taylor’s red card ‘harsh’. Harsh? Perhaps they haven’t seen the images of the tackle up close? Or perhaps this just shows the extent to which the game has become ‘lawless’ and these people — all professional sportsmen or managers — ought to look up the laws of the game.
The television commentary was just as bad, if not worse. Sky anchorman Richard Keys was more concerned with Gallas’ emotional outburst and the fact that Arsenal had dropped points, rather then mention the assault by Taylor on Eduardo. As the Guardian’s minute-by-minute text commentator noted:
It’s quite revealing that [Richard Keys] has slipped into more of a sanctimonious funk over Gallas’s minor tantrum than he did about the horror tackle which could easily have ended a talented young player’s career, but that’s the way it seems to be.
Then there was Sky pundit (and former Arsenal player) David Platt shockingly dismissing the incident and even suggesting that Taylor’s hack at Eduardo didn’t even merit a yellow card! Match of the Day and Score on the BBC weren’t much better, with (ex-Sp*rs) player and BBC reporter Garth Crooks (backed by Gavin Peacock) suggesting Eduardo was a ‘victim of his own pace and skill’. I don’t have words to describe how absurd such comments are.
But Crooks’ deranged comments ought to help lead us to the real point of discussion. It’s not about Taylor’s malicious intent (or lack thereof), or his superb off-field character (and much credit should go to Taylor for trying to visit Eduardo in hospital). I actually agree that Taylor did not intend to break Eduardo’s leg, or even to injure him seriously. The point is, or should be, about an attitude in the English game which seeks to justify vicious assaults in the delusion that ‘getting stuck in’ to the opposition is ‘part of the game’. Take another look at the attempted tackle by the Birmingham City defender: Taylor is clearly showing his studs to Eduardo’s shins. This certainly suggests that the Birmingham City player was out to ‘rough up’ Eduardo. While most of the time such challenges do not result in serious injuries, it was only was a matter of time before something like this would happen. Such reckless challanges can end a career or even result in lost limbs. As Patrick Barclay, who appears to have broken ranks with the media coverage, points out:
More than three years ago, I wrote that the refereeing regime headed by Keith Hackett, himself a former official at England’s top level, was too permissive and that dangerous tackles were being inadequately punished in the interests of “managing the game” so that dismissals were kept to a minimum. As soon as this season started, it became evident that the tendency towards violence was escalating. Moreover, some of the worst challenges were not being punished – one by Reading’s Stephen Hunt on Gelson Fernandes of Manchester City springs to mind – and eventually the referees had little alternative but to get tougher on tackles deemed “out of control” and therefore reckless.
There is also a mild and unstated xenophobia at work here. The English sports press have often glossed over the duplicity of English football players, especially the stellar names, because of the myth that only foreigners cheat and dive and British (and specifically English) footballers are an ‘honest’ bunch. Afterall, who can forget Neil Lennon’s vicious assault on Alan Shearer’s boot with his head? Or Michael Owen’s guidance on ‘simulation’ (otherwise known as diving to con the referee into awarding a penalty)? Or how about Gary Naysmith’s cowardly act of deliberately lying in the way of a Steven Gerrard slide tackle?
The hope is that Eduardo makes a full recovery from this injury, and the incident opens the eyes of anyone attached to the game: players, managers, fans and journalists, but most especially the authorities who run the game.