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The importance of keeping the heid

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Jim Spence | 11:59 UK time, Thursday, 20 August 2009

"Me think thou dost protest too much" (to slightly misquote from Hamlet) was my first reaction to Hearts skipper Michael Stewart's response to his two yellow cards and subsequent sending off at Tannadice on Monday night.

The Hearts midfelder's second yellow was for a blatant foul from behind on Scott Robertson, leaving the referee no option but to dismiss him.

The Tynecastle skipper was quoted as saying: "There was no malice and I think there were far worse tackles on the pitch that went unpunished. All I was trying to do was get the team going by putting in a tackle or two. I thought we were a bit flat."

The only thing left flat in the event was the Dundee United midfielder, flat on his backside.

The Hearts man should have been disciplined enough to know his challenge would be judged reckless and would let his side and supporters down by reducing them to ten men.

michaelstewartoff595.jpgIf the skipper can't show discipline in the heat of battle who can? The role of team captain is more than just symbolic, it requires passion yes, but also restraint, along with a cool head and the ability to rise above the general melee.

It requires in other words special qualities. It's often confused with the need to be a hard man, when in fact being an intelligent man is more important.

Stewart is not only a potentially creative player, but is also an articulate and thoughtful one and he let himself and his side down on Monday.

The ability to lead by example, to cajole, to lift and rally the side; all go into the making of a good captain. Physical toughness and mental toughness in sport are inseparable twins, but for maximum effect they must be allied to clear and rational thinking in the thick of the scrap.

Red cards and reduced numbers are an admission of defeat.

Celtic's captain Gary Caldwell is another who has struggled to maintain the discipline required in white hot situations.

Against Arsenal game his needless foul and subsequent verbal nipping at Cesc Fabregas, who refused to be drawn by the defender's antics, cost his side dearly when the resultant free kick fortuitously deflected into the net.

Caldwell's two bookings and sending off for Scotland in the 4-0 defeat in Norway showed a similar lack of discipline through poor judgement and the game arguably turned on his red card for needless shirt pulling.

Along with all the many qualities to make it as a top flight footballer discipline is perhaps the most difficult to master, yet is utterly essential.

From the discipline required on the pitch, to the disciplines of diet, rest, and general pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, many players have fought and lost the unequal struggle.

As the game progresses, the old ways of the hard man, the sneering, curling bottom lip at decisions which don't meet with a player's approval, must go.

Being hard isn't being tough, being disciplined is being tough.


  • Comment number 1.

    It is hard to think what Stewart hopes to achieve by his comments. If anything, notwithstanding the likelihood of an appearance before the SFA, it is only likely to make matters worse.

    An expression of the need for professionalism and discipline plus an apology would have been the desired response but Stewart's comments are unsurprisingly as recklessa as his tackle. Why should we be surprised?

  • Comment number 2.

    Jim, totally agree with you. I watched from the East stand and had a pretty good view of both tackles, he was never going to get near the ball and I don't under stand what the fuss about the red card was. This guy was always going to continue to get sent off captain or not, and although I'm a Utd fan and a fan of Lazslo, I think he's made a big mistake with both the choice of captain and vice captain, and being one of our main rivals this season I'm delighted.

  • Comment number 3.

    I like Michael Stewart and I like the fact he will dig in and play on the edge of possible punishment.. You are taking what he has said and twisting because if he had won a hard tackle and possibly got up and gestured to his team mates they would respond.. as well as the crowd.. this kind of thing happens all the time.

    Gary Caldwell should never have been sent off against Norway.. this issue seems to be overlooked.. he tugged at a mountain of a man who was also tugging at him.. the man mountain crashes and the poor ref gives it and books him.. then needs to be reminded he has just booked him beforehand... lets face reality and say it was not very clever but not a sending off.. typical doom and gloom.. Carew was labelled as a crafty wise old performer for his part in it.. many others would say to get a fellow pro sent off then smile and nod about it is shocking.

  • Comment number 4.

    Roy Keane would disagree I'm sure but then he wouldn't cry about it afterwards either and lets face it is better than Caldwell and Stewart put together, even at the age he is now. Keane was disciplined with all the rest of the game but still a proper hard man and an inspiring leader, shame for Scotland Caldwell isn't even close to being any of them.

  • Comment number 5.

    The days of the no-nonsense midfielder are over - nowadays, most sides pair a 'creative' midfielder with a 'holding' midfielder. We won't see the likes of Keane in the game anymore because of the additional regulations regarding tackling etc. I think that labelling yourself a 'hard man' in the current game would be an invite for red cards.

  • Comment number 6.


    This talk about the referee forgetting Caldwell had just been booked and what Carew did is completely beside the point. The fact is Caldwell committed a rash challenge from behind when it was clear to everyone he had very very little chance of getting the ball. Then he tugs at a mans shirt to try and knock him off the ball. Both are yellow card offences and both cards were given. Two yellow cards = red card. What Carew did matters not. He may well have been tugging at the shirt as well and that is the same offence and so under the rules he should have been booked.

    However, just because one person does it doesn't mean it's ok for everyone to do it. Carew is labelled as clever because he goaded Caldwell into committing a foul and he did it without the referee seeing. Caldwell was rightly sent off and the game turned on it's head for Scotland.

    The same thing with Michael Stewart: if he goes in and commits two bookable offences he can't be surprised if he is booked twice. Some referees will allow a warning, some will let it go, others will follow the rules to the letter and flash the cards. Every referee is different but if you are going to risk committing a foul then you should be able to accept if the referee punishes you for it. Some will some won't, that's part of what makes the game exciting - every game is different.

  • Comment number 7.


    You've hit the nail on the head with your point about discipline. There is a fine line between committed player and outright liability, and unfortunately our players very rarely have the intelligence to recognise that, or the ability to stay cool enough to use that intelligence if they do possess it.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, when Gary Caldwell was booked against Norway, he should have moved aside and let his brother take Carew for a while until he'd calmed down a bit.

    A seperate issue that comes out of this is that more skillful nations do not rely on this committed approach, as they have the skills in the first place not to have their 2nd touch as a tackle. Perhaps that's why you don't see the same 'lapses of discipline' from these players, simply because the situation that would lead to that isn't allowed to arise?

    BTW Jim, why are we still being subjected to Chic's nonsense when your stuff is so much superior in almost every way. You know that had Chic been charged with writing about this subject it would basically have been, a few comedy aliterations and nonsensical metaphors aside, a love letter to Souness....

  • Comment number 8.

    Spot on about the evolution of the game.

    In five years' time, players like Roy Keane will be looked back on in the same way that people now look back on WWF wrestling. A little smile in reminiscence of the vaudeville posturing, but basically relief that a laughable embarrassment has been slung in the dustbin of history.

  • Comment number 9.

    I really detest how soft football has become.

    I played rugby when I was growing up and have also played football at junior level. I find it disgusting the way players look for fouls and want their fellow pros to get carded, like that guy Suso against United.

    Isnt it meant to be a man's game?

    Get on with it

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree there with what you said about Stewart. Captains are there to set and example he certainly did not against Dundee United. Im a hearts fan and I personaly think Stewart should not be captain (although we do not have outstanding cannidates to be given the arm band.) Stewart need to keep the head. The end of the day the more silly sending off's he gets the more points we loose.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nearly all of Stewart's bookings are as a direct result of his own incompetence - he will lose the ball cheaply and go chasing the player, usually lunging in and giving away a stupid free kick and usually getting booked.

    He has zero footballing brain. Any decent player knows he will commit himself and they simply side-step him and move forward into the space.

    As for motivator? Laughable. His dazzling array of misplaced passes are accompanied by a blast at a team-mate for not making the correct run or for not being in Row Z to receive the pass.


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