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Is the Premier League too dirty?

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Phil McNulty | 11:09 UK time, Friday, 8 October 2010

When Danny Murphy effectively named and shamed Blackburn Rovers, Stoke City and Wolves as three teams on the Premier League's dark side, he did more than guarantee hostility next time he steps out at The Britannia Stadium, Ewood Park and Molineux.

Murphy, one of football's most eloquent and informed spokesmen, was articulating the fears of those who believe the price of success - and the penalties for failure - in the top flight is forcing players to cross the line when it comes to physical contact.

The former England midfield man suggested Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis and Mick McCarthy are three managers who are "sending out their players so pumped up there are inevitably going to be problems".

Murphy's outspoken views may have been shaped by Fulham's recent painful experiences against the three clubs he has put in the dock by his remarks at the Leaders in Football conference at Stamford Bridge.

Fulham recently lost Bobby Zamora with a broken leg in a tackle with Wolves captain Karl Henry - although there was clearly no malice in the challenge - and £5m summer signing Moussa Dembele following a wild late lunge by Stoke's Andy Wilkinson in the Carling Cup.

The Cottagers were also angered by some of Blackburn's tactics in the recent game at Ewood Park, especially a charge on goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer by El-Hadji Diouf which led to a goal.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has long been in the vanguard of a campaign to clean up the Premier League - and he now appears to have a willing ally in Murphy.

Jordi Gomez is felled by Karl Henry

Henry's tackle was the latest in a series of X-rated challenges in the Premier League. Photo: PA

Events in the Premier League last weekend added weight to their argument, with Henry sent off and roundly condemned - by his own manager McCarthy as well it should also be stressed - for a shocking tackle on Wigan's Jordi Gomez and Newcastle's Hatem ben Arfa suffering a broken leg in an early challenge by Manchester City's Nigel de Jong.

De Jong was subsequently dropped by Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk, who complained that he "needlessly looks to push the limit", although the suspicion this was a calculated cosmetic exercise remains.

Fine words and actions from Van Marwijk, although his principles deserted him in the World Cup final, when De Jong's studs meeting the chest of Spain's Xabi Alonso was the sum total of the coach's tactical subtlety. No talk of punishment then.

So, is Murphy right to express these fears?

Is the Premier League in danger of getting out of hand?

Allardyce, Pulis and McCarthy will argue, with some justification, that if they sent out their respective teams to play the beautiful game against the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, the only certainty would be defeat and the potential to have their employment prematurely terminated.

Physical contact cannot, must not, be removed from the game, while watching football at The Britannia, where the passion of the crowd dovetails with the competitive approach of Pulis's team, is one of the most intoxicating experiences in the Premier League.

And already, in the wake of Murphy's remarks, I have been contacted by many Blackburn fans demanding to know when a player last suffered a serious injury against one of Allardyce's teams.

It is hard to accept the argument that the game is dirtier now than it has been in the past. One Premier League manager of fairly recent vintage was only too happy to boast to me (off the record, of course) that he encouraged his team to "dissuade" the opposition's more skilful players from wishing to spend time on the ball.

Another explained the futility of arranging a hot date on the night you played Don Revie's Leeds United in the 1960s and 70s because you were more likely to find solace in the arms of your doctor or dentist than your girlfriend.

If the argument goes that those acts were perpetrated by better players then than they are now - Everton's Peter Reid, Liverpool's Graeme Souness and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson were ruthless operators but also outstanding footballers - then this would have merit.

And let's get another thing straight. Fulham boss Mark Hughes, so outraged by Wilkinson's challenge on Dembele, was never behind the door when it came to, let's say, looking after himself. Hughes' teams do not tend to be shrinking violets either.

Wind the clock back further and to suggest men like Dave Mackay, Tommy Smith, and, of course, Ron "Chopper" Harris would turn their faces away from the combat of today's Premier League is laughable.

Are there more dirty players around than in previous eras? Hard to prove but, at a guess, highly unlikely.

A significant factor is the increased tempo of the modern game. If you combine the speed with the potential impact of heavy collisions, then this is where the risk of serious injury is greater. If you arrive at a tackle at high speed, huge momentum and recklessness, then you have a potent and damaging cocktail.

Fifa's top medical official Michel d'Hooghe claims football is being disfigured by "criminality" and "brutality" on the pitch - but for every complaint of this sort you are likely to find another bemoaning that it is becoming "a non-contact sport".

As for intent, unless there is an open-and-shut case, as with De Jong's challenge on Alonso, then the only person who really knows is the man making the tackle. The Manchester City player has been villified since his challenge on Ben Arfa, with Newcastle even demanding retrospective punishment, but on first viewing it is easy to see why referee Martin Atkinson let play continue.

This is not suggest it was a good tackle but proving De Jong intended to cause the eventual damage is a tough job.

Where Murphy is absolutely on the mark is with his criticism of players failing to weigh up the potential consequences of their challenges.

He says: "The pace in which some players go into tackles now is ridiculous. There's no brains involved in the players who are doing that.

"I don't believe players are going out to break another player's leg but there has to be some logic and intelligence involved. If you are going at someone at a certain pace and you don't get it right you are going to hurt them."

No names from Murphy but allow me. Step forward Henry, whose challenge against Wigan was everything Murphy was referring to. Uncontrolled, at pace, lacking any semblance of common sense and very fortunate not to result in serious injury for the tumbling Gomez.

Sadly, there have always been bad tackles in football. And the growing acceptance of what some laugh off as the early "reducer" - clumsy code for a hefty challenge usually inflicted on the opposition's most gifted player - is crass.

So is the Premier League too dirty or any dirtier than in the past? Not in my opinion. Is there a problem of growing recklessness from players without thought for what might result from rash tackles? Definitely.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I don't know if I agree with this Phil. While I understand the argument you are making, I still think these sort of tackles are isolated cases.

    It annoys me when Arsene Wenger moans about so-called dirty teams when Arsenal had card happy players like Vieira, Bergkamp and Keown to name but a few.

    And I'm an Arsenal fan.

    I think the media has given this ample attention, and you will automatically see players rein their instincts when making a tackle.

    Maybe I'm wrong. Who knows?

  • Comment number 2.


    Good blog and agree with your conclusion. In my opinion the only thing that should change is players having more thought in the tackle, but it shouldn't stop a hard challenge, and think both Van Marjwick and D'Hooge are guilty of over-egging the situation. Footballer is cleaner than it has been in the past.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think talk of the issue is getting out of hand and I see the current chatter is nothing more than a more restrained version of managers moaning to referee's and players cheating etc etc

    As for 'One Premier League manager of fairly recent vintage was only too happy to boast to me (off the record, of course) that he encouraged his team to "dissuade" the opposition's more skilful players from wishing to spend time on the ball.', get him to go on the record then you'll have something to hang your hat on. Until then, like a lot of journalism, it's all gossip and smoke and mirrors and may well exist simply to serve a particular personal viewpoint or agenda.

    Do I think the game is dirty? No.

    Do I think there are many cheats in the game who have a lack of respect? Yes.

    I don't think anyone can define when a 'hard man', a 'midfield enforcer' go too far. They'll probably get away with a lot and then an innocent coming together can be bad luck for someone.

    Phil, I would really like it if you were to stand up for something, call a spade a spade and say which players you thought were cheats.

  • Comment number 4.

    If a player injures another player with a malicious challenge that was clearly intended, the Premier League Association should ban that player until the injured player returns to the game. That would soon stop the stupid challenges and would give more protection to the creative players (who are the ones we pay to see) without taking fair tackling/challenges out of the game.

    Nigel De Jong wouldnt have a career if this was in place but would this be such a bad thing.

  • Comment number 5.

    If non-contact means we lose 2 footed tackles and over the top of the ball tackles who cares? If non-contact means Messi, Ronaldo, Fabregas get more protection then wonderful. It's coming BECAUSE of the people who say we don't want non-contact. If these De Jong type players could just tackle properly we'd be fine.

  • Comment number 6.

    This is absurd, De Jong's tackle on Ben Afra was fine, he (as Andy Townsend rightly says) is being used as a scapegoat for the performance Dutch performance in the World Cup final.

  • Comment number 7.

    1 "If I see your studs - you're off"
    2 Don't let me hear "I got the ball". The correct response is either "you went through the man to get it" or "your trailing leg took everything out - you're off" (That one is for De Jong)
    3 Henry should be banned for 3 months for the tackle (sic) on Gomez and warned that a repeat will see him spending time at home for a year.

    Professional footballers know where their feet and legs are and more importantly know also where their opponents' legs are. They know full well exactly what their trailing leg will do.

  • Comment number 8.

    at the end of the day, people will make tackles in football... its part of the game, no tackles just means your waiting for the opposition to give the ball away... boring! some tackles are worse than others, and these are highlighted, and the usual suspects are named and shamed... no one ever mentions paul scholes in these discussions about tackling.

    i watched arsenal - chelsea, and malouda stamped on sagna, but hey its chelsea... can't annoy the big clubs, lets just highlight the smaller clubs.

    maybe the fa could and should use retrospective punishment? and maybe also look at the actual "dirty" side of the game such as cynical play - pulling back opponents etc, and also diving... these are far worse than a few meaty tackles.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Suprisingly Scholes used to be a part of those hard tacklers but this season he has shown much restraint and concentrated on spraying more of those beautiful 50 yard passes we know him for. But you cant fault those managers for their hard stance because at the end of the day, the goal is to stay in the Premier League and if there is a chance they could get relagated even though they play nice football.....the dreaded axe comes swinging.

  • Comment number 11.

    Dirty is wrong word...Dangerous is the right word.

    1. Currently the premier league tops the injury charts and especially the serious injury charts.
    2. A broken ankle or leg can mean that a player never recovers fully e.g. Eduardo and so it can have a severe impact on his career.

    So the Premier league is too dangerous as stupid tackling is allowed by managers not being specific enough and not criticizing stupid tackles - see the aftermath on the Eduardo and Ramsay leg breaks

    Comparing it to the past is not a coherent argument. This argument is not used in other areas such as legal, business, interpersonal relationships etc. We evolve as a species and as a society.

    The game is actually more dangerous because - Pitches have changed (less mud = less give), shoes have changed (less protection and more sticky = less give) , fitness has changed = more speed resulting in much greater risk.

    Tackling is not being removed. But dangerous tackling should be. There is a spectrum here. Removing dangerous driving does not mean that all driving is removed does it?

    Competitiveness will not be affected.
    This year Arsenal has been beaten by West Brom and Liverpool beaten by Blackpool without kicking off the Park.
    Last Year Fulham got to the UEFA final beating Shaktar Donetsk and other teams along the way by superb organization and work rate but without stupid tackling. It just means that better, more intelligent coaching is required.

    In all of this the level of debate is pitiful...driven by neanderthal old cloggers. Wenger was told to get out of the England if he didn't like it.
    Thank god for Danny Murphy. Shame it has taken a few more broken legs for the debate to really liven up.

  • Comment number 12.

    No doubt that some of the tackles going in from some of these teams are bordering on dangerous but it is a physical game. Football used to be all about big guys getting stuck in. Teams then developed more skilful ways of combating physical play with quick, clever football. So the teams with less skilful players (for example the majority who can't compete on the wages or transfer front for really top notch individuals) got even more physical to counter this.

    I don’t want the physical side cut out, just suitable punishment for players who go over the top (and by the way I don’t think any of them set out to permanently harm people)

    However, until players cut out all the diving and play acting, then referees don't stand a chance. Some of the totally over the top rolling around faking serious injury is so deceitful that it means that refs can't now judge a bad tackle on player reaction. So the refs need help. Linesmen could help (but never do), managers should take more action and retrospective punishment should also be dished out more. But the physical nature of the game shouldn’t be eradicated completely – just policed better.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think that an additional factor, as well as the fact that players are quicker now than ever before, may be the fact that the pitches are a lot firmer than before. So that they don't cut up, many of them have a synthetic component, and this, together with the fact that many players now wear blades instead of studs, must increase the risk of injury.

    Whereas before, if a player was tackled robustly at say, Derby County's muddy old Baseball ground, the chances are that the turf would "give" and the standing leg of the standing leg would move through the playing surface, with reduced impact on the limb.

    Now, however, if a player hits the standing leg with force, the combined effect of the firm ground and blades may cause the leg to catch in the surface, and all of the force of the tackle will have to be absorbed by the player's leg, resulting in serious injury.

    I believe that it is sigificant that former players, from 10-15 years ago - including Newcastle Assistant, Colin Calderwood - have been supportive of De Jong, while some current players, such as Danny Murphy, appear to be more critical.

    Players must move with the times, and should be mindful of the risk of injury to the fellow players - if not themselves - if they indulge in tackles which might not be malicious, but might now be thought to be reckless. Otherwise, it may be left to the civil courts to decide on the point!!

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    The problem of reckless tackling, although real, has been exaggerated in recent weeks and to pick on individual clubs is unfair; there have always been 'physical' players and the occasional nasty challenge in the PL.

    Singling out supposedly gritty, (mainly) northern teams for criticism is easy but silly. Was Danny Murphy - or the media - as concerned about Michael Brown's behaviour when he was at gentle, little Fulham? And I may be wrong but I remember an awful tackle from Diaby on a Bolton player a couple of years back.

    The FA should act against reckless behaviour but we should avoid witch hunts against certain teams or players.

  • Comment number 16.

    The PL is no dirtier than it has been in the past. I think of the weekly treatment dished out to Ronaldo, but the unfortunate breaking of legs recently has obviously highlighted some challenges.

    On a side note, De Jong has done himself no favours by not apologising to Ben Arfa. Whether the intent to injure was there or not is debatable, but the fact that he broke his leg is not.

  • Comment number 17.

    I never like the "there was no malice" excuse trotted out by managers for some bad tackles. I should certainly hope there was no malice, if there was then the thug in question should be banned from football in life.

    But clumsiness and recklessness in a challenge still deserves to be punished, even with 'no malice'.

    You can play tight, disciplined, effective and tough football. For some teams, that seems too much so it's just get the studs out, dive in and the manager will bluster and complain to cover you.

  • Comment number 18.

    "Hughes' teams do not tend to be shrinking violets either."

    You clearly haven't watched us very clearly then have you this season. One of the best Fair Play records in the League at the minute and Hughes has us playing more pretty football than under Hodgson and the same tough but fair tackling.

    Phil, I advise you watch the West Ham Vs Fulham match from last week and watch Dickson Etuhu's challenge on Victor Obinna. The best tackle by far this season, was tough but fair as he clearly won the ball. If Gerrard, Lampard or any other English star player had made the tackle, the media would be talking about it for weeks.

  • Comment number 19.

    Amazing, Arsene Wenger complains about these tactics for years and everyone tells him to shut up.

    A player backs him up and a couple of challenges happen against non Arsenal players and suddenly it's an important issue.

    Condemn Henry by all means, but his challenge was no more reckless than Taylor's on Eduardo, and Shawcross' on Ramsay - two players who everyone leapt to the defense of.

  • Comment number 20.

    # 8

    Couldn't have put it better myself.

  • Comment number 21.

    Football is now a "cosmetic" game.

    The Premiership is played on pitches far removed from even 10 years ago, God the poor babes cant even cope with a bit of mud, let alone someone going to tackle them. For some at one end of the scale, Wenger et al, its more of a non contact sport, should all be skill

    For others,particularly English managers, there is the other end of the spectrum, its a contact sport, and tackling is an art which some would like to be banned but the reality is a good tackle is as exciting as a goalie making a save, it creates adrenalin in the crowd which reflects on the pitch. How many times have games been aimless, one solid tackle, and it becomes a bit more meaty.

    As with most things, it is getting a balance, and this is yet another example where the authorities should be addressing the issue but yet again hide.

    For every whinge the "non contact" supporting managers create about tackling,how many times do those same "non contact" managers whinge when their players "fall down" when hardly touched ?

    The problem is not just the "crazy" tackle, its also the "non tackle" where a player dives.

    Both situations need to be addressed with retrospective action otherwise for example refs will continue to be in no win situation in games between football teams who preach the non contact method and teams that are at the other end of the spectrum.

    Tackling is part of the excitement of football, I remember watching Mark Lawrenson perfecting tackles in penalty areas when forwards were through on goal, that takes technique and brains, the problem nowadays is that if he did that in this day and age, the player would go down looking for a penalty. So, yes, the outrageous tackles need to be addressed with season bans but the tacklers themselves must be protected from the divers.

    Address both issues and tackling will return to its previous form but please dont go wholly on the side of either Wenger's viewpoint or those managers with the opposite view.

  • Comment number 22.

    Interesting article. Personally I think a large portion of the blame for this ridiculous ascertain that "football is dirtier now than ever" has to lie firmly on the doorstep of the motd team. Since highlighting the now infamous 7 challenges of the newly canonised Joey Baron, the media have firmly jumped on what is one of the most stupid bandwagons I've seen this year. I would just like to point out that of the magnificent 7 tackles, the ball was won on 6 of them, the overzealous actions of Martin "the worst ref in the league" Atkinson then nothing would have been made of it.
    Funny how Atkinson is in the centre of the current storm surrounding de Jong too.
    I do think by spouting such nonsense that Murphy is bringing the game into disrepute. Unlikely the FA will do anything, it's not like they've done anything about Wenger and Bruce's constant criticism of the refs.
    The REAL AND ONLY issue in the game, and has been so for several years, is the ammount of play acting and diving by players, who get away with it time and again and will continue to do so as the rules are set up to protect these cheats!

  • Comment number 23.

    Henry's tackle on Zamora may not have been "malicious" but it was definitely cynical, dirty and reckless. Why are you defending him?

  • Comment number 24.

    Re: 18

    "You clearly haven't watched us very clearly then have you this season."

    Perhaps Phil is referring to Hughes's decade as a manager rather than just this season?

    "If Gerrard, Lampard or any other English star player had made the tackle, the media would be talking about it for weeks."

    Really? Talking about a tackle for weeks? Really?

    My pet hate in football is paranoid fans.

  • Comment number 25.

    Nice balanced article, Phil. It would have been easy to jump on the Wenger bandwagon as Murphy has done. As a Stoke supporter, I also try to see both sides - I believe Ryan Shawcross's tackle on Aaron Ramsey was a firm yet honest attempt to get the ball, where Ramsey simply got there a fraction of a second ahead of him, and one only had to see how distraught the lad was to know there was no malice aforethought; however, Wilko's tackle on Dembele was verging on reckless - there was nothing to play for, as the game was in the bag for us and he could have just shepherded him down the touchline, yet he chose to dive in strongly but wholly unnecessarily and risk injuring his opponent. This is the kind of tackle on which the authorities should come down harshly.

    I also know Karl Henry from his time at Stoke in his youth and he was a rather timid kid, who did not impose himself enough on play and passed the ball sideways a lot seemingly to avoid responsibility, and we got rid of him partly because of this character trait. He had skill, and was in all the younger England representative age group teams. For him to now turn into the Premiership's hard man seems strange to me and must mean he has either altered his style of play voluntarily to try to become successful, or he is acting on instructions from his manager to "put the foot in", or a bit of both. In our first game of the season, our new 8 million man, Kenwyne Jones, gave notice of his threat by a run and shot which hit the cross bar in the first few minutes - by the tenth minute he had been stretchered off following a "challenge" from Jody Craddock where his back leg had come through to take KJ out. Luckily Kenwyne was out for a couple of weeks, not a couple of months or more. Craddock knew what he was doing - it was an early marker put down to let KJ know he was there (a "reducer" as you call it). Centre halves have been doing that since Noah was a lad, but it still does not make it right. I know from being in enough dressing rooms as a player at a reasonable amateur level in three or four different countries that McCarthy will have told Craddock to get stuck in on Jones and not let him get away from him, a message which will have been enforced even more strongly from the touchline after KJ's early run and shot.

    It is interesting to note that all three Premiership managers who have been singled out were centre halves in their own playing days and maybe this "get your retaliation in first" mentality has something to do with their methods? However, it is far more likely that it is a by-product of a "stay up at all costs" approach instilled in their players, who are faced with players who cost five times as much, who earn ten times as much, and with whom they can only compete on a level playing field by exhibiting superior fitness and physicality. The inequality of the Premiership and Champions League has never been starker - we know only 2/3 teams at the start of the season (you can now discount Liverpool for the foreseeable future) have even a remote chance of winning the title, 3/4 others can challenge for fourth spot and the Europa league places and the rest have to do whatever they can to stay on the Premiership gravy train and, if they are lucky with the draw, have a decent cup run. If the last category of teams are not "up for it" when they got to the Bridge, Old Trafford or the new "Library", they get badly turned over -as we did at Chelsea late last season. No manager wants to see that happen to his team, so he comes up with ways to avoid it, to limit the damage, all within the resources of the club in question.

    I could go on, as it is a complex issue with many strands to the debate, but I do agree that any element of reckless endangerment must be punished forcefully, without reducing football to a non-contact sport which would take away so much of the fascination we all have in watching clashes of styles and cultures, tactics and formations, haves and have-nots in the self-styled "best league in the world".

  • Comment number 26.

    BlocFFC I must say you're being a bit stupid there and haven't understood what was said at all. Hughes' teams are not shrinking violets, they are not weaklings, he instills in them a 'fire in their bellies'. Phil didn't say Hughes' teams are dirty, but they are strong.

    That said the worst challange in the recent fulham vs wolves game, was the cynical shirt pull by Pantsil when one of our strikers, when he broke thru. Pantsil only received a yellow even tho he was last man and it was cynical. So just remember, you give as good as you get. I think being in such close proximity to arsenal and mr wenger has rubbed off on fulham. Anyone would think that everyones out to get them.

  • Comment number 27.

    Condemn Henry by all means, but his challenge was no more reckless than Taylor's on Eduardo, and Shawcross' on Ramsay - two players who everyone leapt to the defense of.


    utter nonsense. Those tackles were innocuous, especially Taylor's. Disgraceful that they got sent off for those.

  • Comment number 28.

    11 johnnyrotten

    Does excessive watering of the pitch before matches also a factor as players go into a tackle they slip and their momentum carries them through? That said some tackles are downright malicious and no slipping takes place. I also think that retrospective action taken by the FA with big penalties for club and player might give some managers pause for thought.

  • Comment number 29.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 30.

    I agree with you Phil that the game is not inherently 'dirtier', or even 'harder' than it used to be. And Wenger is a hypocrite, since his Arsenal team, along with MU, have been prime practitioners of the policy of chopping down the opposition before they were allowed to get too close to goal. It helped them to several titles, but now Arsenal are suffering (and the quality of the game as a whole) from the loss of talented players for protracted periods of time, he is speaking out against the violence.
    And I am in full agreement with him. Because I also see that the 'physical contact' is getting out of hand. The image of John Terry almost having his head taken off by a defender (ok, it was a Gooner, but could have been from just about any other team, just to show I'm not picking on them - and no, I'm not a Chelski fan either) when he went in for a brave attempt to score a headed goal haunts my memory to this day. It raised for me the question of what is reasonably permissible when attempting to prevent a score, or to score one, for that matter.
    One constantly sees, nowadays, players going in to win the ball (and I still believe that that is the prime intention of the vast majority of players), but in such a way that they will almost certainly take the player out in the process. It seems calculated, because the defending player knows that if the attacking one gets past him it will be bad for his team. When both are in full flight, this is extremely dangerous, but it's wrong under any circumstances, imo.
    I think this discussion needs to be part of a broader look at the whole question of 'fairness' in the game. We don't want to see a clamp down on violence lead to players diving all over the place, trying to exploit the rules to win penalties and free kicks or get rivals booked or sent off. The deliberate handball, the fracas that takes place in the box whenever there's a corner, the pulling of shirts are also part and parcel of the breaking of the rules to make a win prevail over any concept of fair play.
    But anything that can cause a player to be out for the remainder of the game, the next few games, several seasons or end a career has to be at the top of the list of don'ts. Players are already as tightly strung as race horses, and as susceptible to injury (are we going to hear a manager say one day "I think we should do the humane thing and put him down"), so they can do without the added risk. there is merit in the argument of making the punishment 'fit the crime', with the player who inflicted the injury being kept out of the game for as long as the victim is, but exchanging a 'donkey' for a 'star' still benefits the guilty party. Certainly the incentives to violence should be removed - a free kick is, in most cases, no longer adequate compensation for having had a promising opportunity snuffed out, especially if it is held up so that the culprit can bring the entire team back to defend and set up a wall - but perhaps the only long-term solution is for players, managers, owners and fans to readjust their perspectives and value fair play and the beautiful game over getting a win at all cost. The disparity in rewards is currently far too heavily weighted in favour of the latter!

  • Comment number 31.

    The problem with the PL is that it is too big, and the quality gap between the teams is too big. There are several teams in the PL that don't have a chance against the bigger teams. These teams are, put simply, playing in the wrong league. Their only chance is, to use big Sam's own words, 'kick lumps out of them, within the law, of course'. When you go in to kick lumps out of the opponents, anything can happen.. There is a difference between playing with passion, commitment and heart, and going out to intimidate, threaten and bully your opponents. I think Murphy is right, there are teams that send players out to do the latter. Is that dirty? Yes.

  • Comment number 32.

    I think the comparison should be to other leagues in europe like Spain, Italy, Germany and France. Would 4xample apreciate stats on leg breaks in the other legues over the past 3 seasons.
    The fqcy at which it is happening in the epl is cause for alarm. Jst 7 games into the season and already 2 broken legs and numerous long term injuries points to a growing problem.
    It is also not a coincidence that the tackles are directed at the more technical teams and their gifted players, the Ramseys, Eduados, Ben Arfas, Fabrigas' and Zamoras. In most cases it is part of the game plan.
    There are beutifull tackles in the game that any lover of the game would apreciate. Giggs' tackles of the trebble winning era would leave the opponnent intact but Giggs would have the ball in the inside of his leg and thigh. He would then make a 180 deg turn and race towards goal.
    The FA needs to clean up!

  • Comment number 33.

    If you cannot tackle the ball, why should you allowed to get away with tackling the player? This isn't rugby.

    All of football needs to stop allowing less talented players to make up for their deficiencies in those areas by being more forceful in other ways.

    The excuse being used by managers like Pulis and others, is that they can only 'compete' if they cheat. How is this any different than any other forms of cheating?

    The apotheosis of this is Holland v Spain in the recent WC final. Were the Dutch that afraid of Spain's talent that the only way they could think of to counter was to brutalize Spain and the sport of football?

  • Comment number 34.

    Goldie Hawn has the immortal line "Now I know what I've been faking all these years", in 'Private Benjamin'. When Mr Drogba and others were dropping like dominoes it was a pleasant reminiscence to pick a midfield to show them what they were truly missing. Choose among our top studs-men: T.Smith, D.Mackay, N.Hunter (no relation), N.Stiles, B.Bremner, (C).Harris, I.Ure, .... have I missed (sic) any of the 'Great Enforcers'?

  • Comment number 35.

    The dangerous tackles will continue unless referees start giving reds instead of yellows. If Wolves, Stoke et al were down to 9 men, being hammered and then having players out for weeks they might change their tactics. The sooner video evidence comes in the better.

  • Comment number 36.

    Dirty is the wrong word!

    But from the games I have watched this season, there is increasing evidence that some players are making tackles which are reckless, and that do not take the well being, and safety of other players into consideration!

    There is no intent from these players to hurt or seriously injure the opponent, but it is now becoming the football equivalent of "Drink Driving"...

  • Comment number 37.

    First of all I would not contemplate even considering anything Andy Townsend says, as he is totally out of touch and one of the 'old school' who believe that football is 'A MANS GAME'.
    I am so pleased that finally questions are being asked about the type of tackles that we are seeing in English football. I have repeatedly said, over many years, that this is one of the reasons why England never get anywhere near winning the World Cup. The English game is built on strength and speed and little skill, and when you get to a World Cup strength and speed is not enough. Why is Theo Walcott spending more time on the side-lines that he is on the pitch? Because everytime he returns and sparkles some 'thug' takes him out of the game with a fearsome tackle and probably picks up just a yellow card. Michael Owen was 'washed up' at 27 because he was kicked from pillar to post and season after season our good young skillful players are targeted and subjected to some horrendous tackling. Then we have non-English players like Ramsey, Holden (another De Jong victim) and now Ben Harfa who are seriously injured and out of the game for a minimum of 6 months. If we keep listening to the likes of Townsend then we will never give our young stars an opportunity to blossom.

  • Comment number 38.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 39.

    Typical hypocrisy to defend "english" managers. The line about Allardyce, Pulis and McCarthy trying to save their jobs is ridiculous. If their teams are not competent enough to play football and they are not competent enough to teach them, then they should just shut shop or play amongst the lower leagues where the dirty "english" game thrives. The simple fact is that, criticising these pseudo football clubs and their tactics would mean attacking the way English like to play the game and obviously no Englishman can be unbiased enough to do that.
    The fact that Arsenal used to play dirty football a decade back is laughable. The overall game was dirtier then. What happenned in the past does not justify the present. I wonder if the author of this blog would have been so diplomatic had these clubs been managed by non-british managers.

  • Comment number 40.

    Phil -I agree, its not that the games got 'dirtier', or that there are more 'hardmen' around, it's that the game is much faster now. The 'timing' of tackles has become one of the most important skills needed in todays game, not simply because of the potential for injuries, but also because of giving away free-kicks, or worse still, penalties; but its probably the least practiced, or researched by sports scientists?
    On top of that you now have total camera coveraged, certainly at most PL/Championship matches. Years ago the Ref (and anyone else) only had one chance to determine whether a tackle was 'bad'or not -today we have things covered from every angle - some tackles which look bad first time around, are not that bad when seen in 'slo-mo'; some tackles that look OK when seen initially, look anything but, when 'caught by the camera'.
    Unless we make it totally a 'non-contact' sport, then football will always have a dangerous edge to it - there is however a duty on all clubs, managers and players to recognise the increased liklihood of injuries when tackles are being made at 100 miles an hour!

  • Comment number 41.

    Good points James Autar- particularly on Walcott and Owen.I actually think Danny Murphy's critique doesn't go far enough. I think certain teams do go out with the intent of 'roughing up' teams like Arsenal. The proof is in the pudding, and Arsene Wenger can point to Abou Diaby, Aaron Ramsey,Eduardo as being the victims of horrendous injuries from diabolical tackles. Three times or more is generally considered more times than being a freakish coincidence isn't it? And Karl Henry could well have added Tomas Rosicky to that list last season when he went right through the back of him.

    And Dembele's injury was the most unneccessary I have ever seen in my life. Mark Hughes was understandably furious. Why should Wilkinson play while Dembele is on the sidelines? Its so easy to exonerate the likes of Wilkinson and Shawcross by them paying a slight compliment to the injured player- 'he was too quick for me that time' or some rubbish they spout. I think Shawcross was in tears because he knew what he did was disgraceful

  • Comment number 42.

    Your words:

    "A significant factor is the increased tempo of the modern game. If you combine the speed with the potential impact of heavy collisions, then this is where the risk of serious injury is greater. If you arrive at a tackle at high speed, huge momentum and recklessness, then you have a potent and damaging cocktail."

    That is for me the most important point you make. I will add the following:

    Considering the fact that the game is so much faster today, it is really pointless to compare the severity of the tackles now to those of a past era. Players may have been more brutal then, but the speed at which some defenders are going into tackles now more than insures a fair shares of injuries to the current generation.

  • Comment number 43.

    Personally, I think the art of the tackle has been lost, due to players increasingly feigning injury after tough but fair tackles. I think the comments about it becoming a non-contact sport and the ones about tackles being more reckless go hand-in-hand, because as players become less confident in making tackles, when they DO have to make them they end up getting it very wrong.

    Tackling should never be taken out of the game, as a well-timed sliding tackle can lift a crowd and a team just as much as good attacking play. The thing that needs to be cut out is "simulation" and feigning injury. The problem there being how do you judge whether is feigning or truly needs treatment.

  • Comment number 44.

    Murphy is spot on - we are not talking about malice aforethought, it is more a rush of blood to the head with no thought aforethought. Managers set the culture for a team and Murphy is right to point the finger at them. It takes courage for a player to speak out like this and he deserves the full backing of all of us who love the game and who do not have to continually hark back to the glory glory days.

  • Comment number 45.

    Harald Schumacher

    Phil Neville
    Doug Rougvie
    Ronald Koeman
    Gorka Pintado

    Vinnie Jones
    Graeme Souness
    Elizabeth Lambert
    Billy Bremner
    Gennaro Gatusso

    Dave (my mate from the London Banks League c.1992)

  • Comment number 46.

    nice Blog Phill

    But no mention of "psycho" V Jones? surely things have improved since then? and don't call me Shirley.

  • Comment number 47.

    #34 Great Enforcers - You missed out Jimmy Scoular (Newcastle United 1953-1960) -they didn't come much harder than him -ask Sir Bobby Charlton!!
    Oh and Banks and Hartle of Bolton about 'pincher' tackles, these were World Experts ... and then there was..... Oh no!.. you got me started now!!

  • Comment number 48.

    I'm not sure I understand Phil. You say "Physical contact cannot, must not, be removed from the game". But, apart from the leg-breaking reckless tackling, what does this incude? Then you say because of the passion it induces in the crowd.

    Maybe we should have a few deaths, put a few lions in there, really get the crowd baying for blood.

    As I said in one of your earlier blogs, for english football to improve we need to change our attitude collectively, and stop thinking that our old-fashioned tactics and attitudes have any value.

    One of the things we have to get sorted out is what are we trying to do. Do we want to compete on a world stage with the other nations, or do we want to provide a spectacle for the lowest depraved elements of our society.

    I guess we have your answer.

  • Comment number 49.

    You could get away with murder back in the 1960s and 1970s in comparison to today - a booking was handed out after 3 or 4 bad challenges and defenders knew that. Chopper Harris admitted that he set out to knobble Andy Gray in that Final and that's precisely what he did. Furthermore, there were a couple of cameras around the ground, not like today where every angle is covered. All the more surprising, therefore, why players go in needlessly hard in today's game, when their every move in analysed in close detail.
    Years ago, crunching tackles were accepted, but I'd say that the current rash of excessive violence is down to the desperate need to stay in the Prem (and its financial rewards) and the speed at which the game is played. Brain reactions still remain the same as 30 years ago, so the body is always fighting to catch up.
    I think fabulousRedsReds made a valid point in saying that there is a huge gulf in quality in the league and many teams are simply there to make up the numbers. The only way they can survive is to 'stifle' the opposition.
    I would say that the punishment system in football is absurd and needs a drastic overhaul - how can it be fair that a player who picks up two yellows for, say, not retiring 10 yards and taking his shirt off to celebrate is punished in the same way as another player who gets the same yellows for two cruching and dangerous challenges? The FA seems to make the rules up as it goes along - issuing retrospective punishments for some offences but not for others. If a player is deemed to have deliberately taken out another, then why not ban him for 10, 15 games or even the rest of the season? Surely punishments are suppose to deter.
    The problem with the modern game is that it is turning into a wrestling match - a speedy winger tries to go past a defender and the arms come up, the defender runs into the path of the other and it ends up in a tangle of limbs, with both players protesting to the ref. Corner kicks have become a penalty-area free-for-all - holding, pushing, tripping - and the poor ref is supposed to have 5 pairs of eyes to see everything. American football has a whole team of refs checking their own area of play and not much gets past them.
    As long as the game is awash with money, the lesser players will use their muscle to gain an advantage over their better opponents.

  • Comment number 50.

    I appluad Murphy for not shying away from the obvious issue in english football at the moment.

    Furthermore as a Fulham fan, I must say the start to this season has been difficult, playing Wolves, Stoke and then Blackburn in a row. We came out with two long term injurys, and a very unfair result against blackburn considering what they were doing to our keeper.

    Murphy's words may be slightly biased, considering our recent experiences with these three teams, but it is hard to deny that they aren't truthful.

    Karl Henry needs a nice long ban.

  • Comment number 51.

    It is frustrating that the time taken to moderate the posts on your blogs prevents a proper exchange developing, as well as leading people to repeat things that were said previously, since they were unable to read them.
    Adding a personal note to this issue, I played a good standard of amateur football for many years, in a variety of positions (midfield Wednesday evenings, striker Saturday afternoons and defender Sunday mornings, at one point), as well as rugby (Saturday mornings, before you ask), and I always got far more injuries from football. And yet I agree with an earlier poster that the player has complete control of his body and can make strong tackles, even from behind, without doing any harm to the opponent. It's just a matter of attitude and skill. I agree that a well executed tackle is a valuable part of the game and is to be applauded. Over more than 20 years, I was never booked or sent off, nor did I ever injure an opposing player, and I am as proud today of that as all the goals I scored, created and prevented.

  • Comment number 52.

    What i would like to know is why there are certain injuries now that we never used to see. Why are there more Eduardo like injuries nowadays? You barely heard of them in the 90s and i cant remember any in the 80s or 70s or prior. Why are there more metatarsal injuries? We never used to have them. I would say the game has become more competitive yes and this i can see being a reason. But managers have a responsibility as wel as the FA to clamp down on these kind of challenges. Why dont they send a message out like they do with the over-caring attitude of the referees or racism? I would like to see banners read something like - "Tackle the problem not the player".

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 54.



  • Comment number 55.

    The pace of the game is making it more dangerous. Yes Shawcross went in quickly on Ramsey, but Ramsey was coming in quickly the other way, it was a 50-50 ball.

    However, when players start leaving their feet to win tackles is where the line should be drawn. If you get to the ball on your feet (and are trying to play the ball, not your man) then any resulting injury is a consequence of playing a physical sport. Lunging and diving in is simply unacceptable.

  • Comment number 56.

    Re. #34, #45, 47
    I should have made it clear, Ms. Hawn may have been referring to a different genre of 'tackle'.
    However, I will accept His Sourness, Billy Bremner (for a 2nd placement!), V. Jones (a.k.a. Gascoigne no tackle left) and Elizabeth Lambert: I don't know her, but if she commands that much respect/fear, who am I to disagree?

  • Comment number 57.

    The game is clearly and cleaner than it was. This was nicely demonstrated when David Elleray re-refereed the 1970 Leeds v Chelsea FA cup Final and would have stopped the game because both teams would have had less than 7 players. He would have produced 6 reds and 20 yellow cards!
    I believe there is somewhat of an issue with reckless diving challenges, as with most of these things the logical solution is retrospective bans. However, I also think these should be applied to fouls during corners which have always been a problem, and most importantly diving which is a problem that has cleary got worse in this country.

  • Comment number 58.

    The game has moved on though, also added to the fact that the pitches are firmer and so a tackle like Taylor's on Eduardo means a career is over in england.

    So you move with the times, that late tackle over the ball tackle has to be a red card.

    Sorry but teams like Fulham are an example of the pretense that to combat more expensively assembled teams you need to get 'stuck in'. They had a terrific record because they were well drilled against the bigger teams. West Brom beat arsenal playing football did they not? any kicking in sight? Blackpool?

    Comparing Diving to potential leg breakers is a joke, only one of those could result in a player out of the game for 9-12 months. What a shoddy defence.

    Players like De Jong Henry got vindicated in England and so they continued with their methods, the result is more bad injuries.

    If you are asking me if a i prefer to see a skillful player like Jack Wilshere or a stopper like shawcross i know who I want to choose. Can anyone not see the desire for overly physical football is holding england back from producing more technical players. How can a coach give a smaller lad the opportunity when he knows he'll get the stuffing knocked out of him when he steps on the pitch.

    'Taking tackling out of the game?' is becoming as old as 'he's not that type of player'. Its a very poor defence, because we know that top players dont end up destroying other players, rio, big sol, cannavaro. I'm not saying they all have world class defenders but a culture in england emerged in england and has gone on far too long, win the ball at any cost, and as long as you win it, its ok up until refs have followed this rule. I hope its about to change.

  • Comment number 59.

    The game is probably cleaner than it's ever been these days but, there seems to be an increase in broken legs because of over-zealous tackling, and obviously this is a big worry. I agree with the comment above about talented players like Walcott and Owen being booted out of the game affecting England's chances in tournaments. At a World Cup, over-physical tackles are met with stern punishment, allowing the players with more style than substance the protection to weave their magic. There simply has to, in my opinion, be a big clamp down on the sort of tackles that Karl Henry and Andy Wilkinson have performed this season in the Premier League. Diving in with your studs showing, at pace, even if it is with just one foot and takes plenty of the ball as well as the man, should be a yellow card offence or even a red if the referee deems the tackle to be reckless enough. Hitting the man and very little/none of the ball - straight red. And two footed challenges should be met with extreme punishment. Players only go in two footed if it is pre-meditated and causing harm is in mind. In other words, this is a form of assault. A red card, big fine and a five match ban (at least) is warranted in this scenario. This would put the 'hatchet men' remaining in the game right in the spotlight and soon enough, end two footed tackling for good.

    Also, Murphy is right - the managers of certain clubs need to instruct their players to keep tackling calm and not reckless. I applaud Mick McCarthy for punishing Henry, although it's not like you couldn't see it coming with that player. He's not the only player in the league who could do with cooling off in the PL however, so I hope all managers take note and give warning so as we can stop seeing a broken leg or two every month and end this negative topic swirling currently through the media.

  • Comment number 60.

    If players were allowed to tackle by fifa and the refs (ie not being booked for the first even slightly missed time tackle) maybe the players would get a bit of practice and be better at it.... oh and the added bonus that i could enjoy the odd game

  • Comment number 61.

    4. At 4:49pm on 08 Oct 2010, Ecasino27 wrote:

    If a player injures another player with a malicious challenge that was clearly intended, the Premier League Association should ban that player until the injured player returns to the game.


    Genius! That is exactly what we should do, that would make the violent thugs think a bit.

    This is an impossible argument, and one that could be discussed forever without unified agreement. You could start to address it in a number of ways:

    1. Have a retrospective video disciplinary panel, which should include the match referee. If you dive, 3 match ban. If you got away with an offence, 3 match ban.

    2. Allow the retrospective panel to rescind disciplinary action as well as implement it. If a ref has made a mistake then he is only human, no worries, everybody will get over it.

    3. Remove the bloody stupid rule of "the ref awarded a yellow, therefore that's the end of it." Nonsense. Ref's make mistakes like the rest of us, if the ref looks at it & thinks, "oops, made a horlicks of that one" give the player a ban. And stop demoting the ref, or he will never learn - it's a mistake, we'll all get over it.

    4. Encourage Manager's to take greater responsibility. If a player commits a heinous crime on the pitch & gets away with it, "suspend" him from 1st team action anyway. Into the reserves for 3 games til you learn to control yourself, you absolute moron. If a Manager does this, then award the side points towards the Fair Play league, as this is about as honest & fair as you can get.

    5. Increase the rewards for the Fair Play League.

    Implement all of these ideas & you will separate the wheat from the chaff. Some tackles are well meaning, but caught out by a quick player (wheat) whereas some are just dangerous & reckless (chaff...or should that be chav, thinking of the prime suspects?). The wheat will pick up bookings, which are inevitable & regularly unavoidable whereas the chav will receive increasingly harsh sanctions.

    Everybody happy?

  • Comment number 62.

    P.S. Meant to say, great blog Phil. Well written, very balanced & makes several excellent points.

    Makes the "Phil-bashers" look a little silly this week!! Bravo!!

  • Comment number 63.

    My solution is very simple.

    Any player who is carded for a tackle that results in injury should be suspended for the period that the injured player is unable to play.

    So, if Player X tackles Player Y and is carded and Player Y is unable to play for 10 weeks then Player X should be suspended for 10 weeks.

    This would make players think twice about reckless challenges.

    Obviously, some discretion would be necessary but like for like punishment would go a long way to cleaning up the game and ensuring football over rash thuggery would win.

  • Comment number 64.

    People who know nothing about football write rubbish like this:

    Kapnag wrote:

    Condemn Henry by all means, but his challenge was no more reckless than Taylor's on Eduardo, and Shawcross' on Ramsay - two players who everyone leapt to the defense of, utter nonsense. Those tackles were innocuous, especially Taylor's. Disgraceful that they got sent off for those.

    Tackling is no better of worse than 20-30 years ago, but, the biggest difference is that we now get to see the challenge in slow motion and dozens of angles. There is nowhere to hide for the likes of Henry, Shawcross et al.

    To say that these challenges are acceptable is completely ridiculous, Henry has no right to be on a football field. Playing against Arsenal, he should have been sent off much earlier for a tackle from behind that left a player with huge black stud marks on his calf. THAT IS NOT TACKLING!

    Retrospective punishment needs to bought in that bans the offending player for the same length of time that their victim is on the side lines recovering from injury. Why should a team that is trying to play football suffer the loss of a key player due to the recklessness of an opposition player.

    Arsenal have lost key players which has cost them the title last season, the punishment to the offending players was a 3 match ban. How can this be fair? Players like Henry will probably only play half a dozen games in a season like the players he has almost ended the careers of!

    The argument that teams nearer the bottom must compete using brute force due to their lack of funding to attract the top players is complete rubbish. Arsene Wenger does not spend obscene amounts on transfers, in fact, he spends a similar amount to the clubs near the bottom. What he does is nurture and coach and improves a players in order to compete. The easy way is to kick the opposition off the park, why not nurture, coach and improve the players to play better and as a team. IF ANYTHING, IT SHOWS THE LACK OF QUALITY COACHES AND MANAGERS WE HAVE IN THE EPL!

  • Comment number 65.

    i get fed up with the "playing to their strengths" argument

    If you sign cloggers
    if you train to clog
    if your footballing ethos is clogging

    guess what your strengths are going to be

  • Comment number 66.

    I think intent is impossible to determine.
    However, if a player is injured by another player, then irrespective of the punishment meted out at the time; the player who made the tackled should be suspended until the injured player is declared fit to play.

  • Comment number 67.

    Danny Murphy has not put any teams "in the dock" tabloid, tabloid, waffle, waffle, bla bla bla...

    And just because that neanderthal Neville pipes up to say "if some winger had fancy footwork, I kicked 'em off the park" that doesn't mean that it's justified to start comparing the eras of football.

    Just in the same way that you cannot compare Pele, to Christiano Ronaldo or George Best to Zidane.

    That's just a smokescreen anyway, it's exactly what kids say when retaliating for a pinch or a punch from their sibling.

    Regarding whether or not the way the Premier League is being blown properly or not; well clearly it's not, how can the ref, just feet away from the incident not hear the poor blokes (both) bones snapping. I suspect you could hear it on the terraces, let alone a few feet away on the pitch. What did Atkinson think? That the player was doing the human beat box impression of bones snapping, or what?

    Danny Murphy is of course right, not only are the managers psyching-up the players too much but the ref's have to take their share of the blame and probably the rules laid down for them by their union and the Premier League.

    Football is played a much higher tempo than even twenty years ago due to the fitness levels etc of the players these days, not like Tony Adams, when you could still be an alcoholic but play at the highest level in English football.

    The EPL/FA seems incapable of laying down rules to stop diving and or players performing crunching tackles and getting away with it.

    Free kicks should be awarded just for the intention of a player to comit a foul, i.e. the ref can see before any contact is made, if the only intention of the tackling player is to impede or "chop down" his opponent that a foul is given (when the advantage has been taken from the "tackled" player).

    The other measure that should be implemented is that if it can be seen using the TV pictures that the tackling player could never have played the ball but just dived in, they should given a six-game suspension and fined a month's wages.

    The same sort of thing could happen to other sorts of cheating like diving, and the proceeds used to fund the panel that is there to analyse these situations.

    It would soon stop the reckless challenges, there's simply no excuse for such behaviour.
    Teams or players that try and compensate for lack of skill by kicking the opposing team off the pitch need to be given a clear message that it's not OK to endanger the health of other sportsmen for your own ends.

    Football is a form of entertainment these days, one that people pay a lot of money to watch as it happens, and we don't want to see things like that, it ain't ancient Rome after all.

    There's the financial aspect too, some teams are weakened and it can mean the difference between staying up or being relegated if a couple of its better (just purchased) players are out for the rest of the season due to some team's butchery.

    It ai't good enough and it has to be stopped.

  • Comment number 68.

    There are some things you can always rely on, aren't there? Like the certainty that an article with a headline like this will go on to mention Leeds United and Don Revie.

    I prefer THAT famous photograph of Dave "Gentle" McKay having a reasoned intellectual discussion with Billy Bremner the Leeds Captain, a man six inches shorter than McKay.

    Of course, before then it was all just free-wheeling-Stanley-Matthews-jumpers-for-goal-posts-no-such-thing-as-defenders, wasn't it?

    I've not heard a lot of people say that Leeds' defenders Norman Hunter and Jack Charlton shouldn't have been in the squad when England won the World Cup, Charlton playing in the final. I'm also pretty sure that Hunter would have been picked more frequently for England if he didn't have to play understudy to the great Bobby Moore.

  • Comment number 69.

    Those criticizing Arsenals former disciplinary record....have we ever broke any players legs??

  • Comment number 70.

    It's really not that difficult... And all this talk about how 'dirty' players are is irrelevant.

    Intent (i.e. whether the tackler means to hurt the player or not) is very difficult to prove, so it should have no bearing when ruling over tackles. Neither should the damage done by the tackle have bearing on the ruling. Dangerous tackles should be assessed on their merits, either at the time by the ref or retrospectively with the assistance of video, and punished firmly, using clearly understood guidelines. And another thing... Getting a foot on the ball should not legitimise an otherwise reckless and dangerous tackle. This point should be obvious.

    People rubbish on a lot but it's really not that hard to tell the difference between a good tackle and a dangerous tackle. Other contact sports (genuine contact sports that is) such as Rugby manage it just fine. Just look at the way they penalise high tackles or spear tackles, while at the same time encouraging bone jarring but fair tackles.

    Dangerous tackles are very dangerous for the tacklee but quite safe for the tackler, so the tackler has a responsibility for the other player's safety. Hard physical play is great but flying into the legs of another player with all your weight and/or with studs up is horrendous and is not tough at all. It attacks the vulnerable bones and undefended joints of the knees and ankles and can do TOO MUCH damage, so care and precision is needed. This can be done without slowing down the intensity or physicality of the game. It merely cuts out the street fighting aspect.

    Other (real) contact sports can make the distinction between dangerous and hard but fair play. Why is it so hard for football?!

  • Comment number 71.

    To MCFC_TID...I have linked to Andy Townsend's very passionate defence of De Jong in the blog. In fact Andy, a really excellent pundit, says he should refuse to play for the Netherlands as long as Van Marwijk is in charge, such is his derision for his decision to drop him after the Ben Arfa challenge.

    By the way, never ever convinced Ryan Shawcross meant to do such damage to Aaron Ramsey. Look at his reaction. He was utterly devastated.

  • Comment number 72.

    To NEARPOSTHEADER...on your point about Chopper Harris setting out "knobble Andy Gray" in the 1970 FA Cup Final...slight slip of the pen as you obviously meant Eddie Gray. Now Chopper v Andy Gray...that would have been interesting.

  • Comment number 73.

    The problem is, players like Shawcross, Henry, Wilkinson etc cannot tackle. As pointed out, tackling is an art when done properly. Sadly, very few players left in the league have the ability to tackle in the correct manner. Their idea of a good tackle is 2 feet off the ground and with no thought of the consequences. I watched Stoke play Blackburn last week and after 25 mins I gave up and went out. If anyone wants to make a programme about "Why England will never win the World Cup again" then just take a trip down to the Britannia Stadium sometime and have a butchers at the "football" on offer there. Truly abysmal, and until pundits wake up and start criticising it rather than celebrating Pulis and his band of misfits then England will never emerge from the dark ages of football. Take a look at Scott Parker, now there's a guy who can tackle properly.

  • Comment number 74.

    I really don't understand why there should be much debate about these. If the game is being played at a much higher pace than before then the laws of the game must reflect such changes.
    The argument that people who protest bad tackles are looking for a "non contact" sport is an utterly stupid and imbecilic argument. Anybody that has played the game knows that if a small contact is made on a player going at pace such contact has a high likelihood of knocking him over and should be a foul not to talk of bad tackles.
    I pity the premier league because unless they protect excellent footballers,football is going to become like rugby.
    Its a game and should be played in the spirit of sportsmanship not a "win at all cost" approach.
    If a fellow footballer can come out to say some tackles are not sensible and over the top we should listen to him.
    And Phil it's really nasty of you to critcise the Dutch national coach for punishing De Jong cos a lot of us believe he has done the right thing. The player needs to know that his hard tackling tactics can backfire on his team not to talk of damaging other players physical abilities and careers.
    I would be very surprised if the English game continues to attract the best players especially if this attitude of "football is a contact sport" continues. I seriously can never see a Lionel Messi in the premiership.
    It is also not encouraging fo smaller players cos they feel they are already disadvantaged.
    If any of us have a brother or son whose career have been cut short by injuries inflicted by another player then we would think twice.

  • Comment number 75.

    Journalists of stature really should look at the evidence and not simply recycle inaccurate information.
    On the tackle that broke Bobby Zamora's leg, quote: "Karl Henry - although there was clearly no malice in the challenge" I have read this exact phrase (and I mean word for word) in a host of reports.
    Henry's tackle on Gomez was almost a carbon copy of the one on Zamora. The difference was that Gomez was sent into orbit and journalists and pundits were able to spot the violent nature of the tackle. When Henry hit Zamora he trapped his legs (scissors tackle - illegal because it's dangerous) AND grabbed Zamora's shirt at the neck. The forces involved of course resulted in serious injury.
    Did Karl Henry intend to injure Zamora? Irrelevant. Intent is not a factor in determining dangerous play nor, incidentally is 'getting the ball first' (FIFA Laws not my opinion).

  • Comment number 76.

    how about some of the tackles by michael essien when he first joined chelsea? i remember one against a liverpool player (possible Hamann) that was lucky not to break the players leg, it was half way up the players shin, studs showing, i don't think essien even got carded.

  • Comment number 77.

    "...but proving De Jong intended to cause the eventual damage is a tough job."

    You still don't get it, do you? Why would anyone other than a psychopath want to shatter another person's legs in pieces? The problem is not with intention, the problem is with the recklessness. A knee high tackle at full pace is reckless; that's why it needs to be stamped out from the game.

    And to those who say that Arsenal players have also committed reckless tackles, therefore they have know right to complain: you guys are also missing the point. Yes, although not as often as others, Arsenal players also commit reckless challenges. All that Wenger and Arsenal fans ask is that bad, reckless challenges should have strict punishment, and retrospective punishment based on video evidences should be allowed in such cases. These measures would EQUALLY apply to Arsenal players as well, so that if, for e.g., Diaby goes in with a knee high tackle, he should be punished as well.

    Is that really so hard to understand?

  • Comment number 78.

    Can anyone not see the desire for overly physical football is holding england back from producing more technical players
    Spot on

    If a player injures another player with a malicious challenge that was clearly intended, the Premier League Association should ban that player until the injured player returns to the game.

    Wouldn't that be nice, that would really put the tin lid on violent challenges on the pitch, it'll never happen though, unfortunately.

    I really think though that the players play not only a game of football, but the ref too.

    I mean I know it myself, if I get a ref that blows everything you can be sure that the slightest body contact and you've conceded a free kick.
    If you get a ref that blows nothing, then you can "afford" to go in hell for leather and probably get away with it.
    This is the main problem in the EPL.

    It's the standard of training and or briefing of the refs. Look at the German refs, if you watch any Bundesliga game you think what the hell did he blow that for, yet in CL games or at the Euros/WC matches they just let play continue. Not only do they get great training but they are well briefed and blow the games exactly in the spirit of the brief that was given.

    EPL refs don't seem capable of that, when the dirty fouls start coming in "thick and fast" they start to brandish the odd yellow card. By then the players have already made up their minds that they can get away with murder and carry on until someone gets sent off.

    Bit like in the WC final, De Jong should have been sent off, no question of fairness, (i.e. Holland down to 10 men) he forfeited that when going in boot at 11 o-clock.

  • Comment number 79.

    also people go on about the shawcross tackle, yes it was an horrific injury but it was a 50-50 ball, shawcross just misjudged it clearly no intent or malice so how would banning him for the duration of the other players injury but just or rational? Should all players refuse to go for 50-50 balls and just wait until the opposition shoot at goal, if so all matches might as well be decided by penalty shoot outs and not bother with playing for 90 minutes

  • Comment number 80.

    The way it is and always will be:
    Managers aren't responsible.
    But there are always some players who play too hard. Unfortunate but rather unavoidable.

  • Comment number 81.

    For me, the reason these challenges are happening is the fact that, in their never ending drive to promote more exciting, goal scoring matches and to protect skilful players, FIFA and UEFA have created a situation where tackling is seen as a very dark art and a mistimed challenge is usually punished by at least a yellow card at best.
    To my eyes, this means that players often hold back and do not make challenges, for fear of being carded, depending on the mood of the referee, it is possible that a simple, mistimed challenge will result in a red card (in my opinion, exactly what happened with Gary Cahill against Arsenal, it looked worse than it was)
    When have you EVER seen Paul Scholes make a clean tackle, and this is a player who plays in central midfield, who NEEDS to be making challenges and tackles throughout the whole 90 minutes, not like a defender who needs to do it only in their own third.
    Because it's seen as a liability if you get it wrong, I am of the opinion that players just do not practice tackling any more, therefore, rendering it obsolete to their game, which then makes any sort of challenge that brings down a player look like it was really malicious.

  • Comment number 82.

    "By the way, never ever convinced Ryan Shawcross meant to do such damage to Aaron Ramsey. Look at his reaction. He was utterly devastated."

    Aaron Ramsey wasn't best pleased either...

    How many drunk hit and run drivers mean to kill their victims? It isn't in the least bit relevant what they, or Shawcross, meant to do.

  • Comment number 83.

    "on first viewing it is easy to see why referee Martin Atkinson let play continue.This is not suggest it was a good tackle but proving De Jong intended to cause the eventual damage is a tough job".
    These are different things. Proving intent is, as you say impossible. But no, it is not easy to see why the referee didn't award a foul. Not necessarily a card, but at least a foul. A bit of shirt-tugging gets a foul, for goodness' sake, never mind crunching into somebody like that.

  • Comment number 84.

    Re 70: quite agree with you.

  • Comment number 85.

    Many sounds points made from many entirely reasonable perspectives. As a Blackburn fan who prayed we wouldn't get Allardyce when Ince went, I've some sympathy with Danny Murphy, although I remember we were equally unpopular at the start of Mark Hughes' reign, until he stabilised us and got us playing some real football.
    What does anyone else think of the idea that if the grass were allowed to grow longer on PL pitches, the danger of the speed of the sliding tackle would be reduced. Also, the skill of the dribbler would be rewarded over the the skill of running 50+ yards to get on the end of a long ball. If the ball were moving more slowly, the skill of moving it about would count for more than the athleticism required to get to where the ball was.
    A bit of a dinosaur comment, I know, and I'm only 40.

  • Comment number 86.

    Great points here Phil. Couldn't agree more that football is nowhere near as physical as back in the 70's, and the likes of the hockey style enforcers is now gone. But with the added pace and skill of the game, poorly timed and clumsy tackles are definitely on the rise. You can understand that certain clubs have to adapt a more physical game plan to be able to compete with more flair attributed sides. But do those managers send their players out to break legs? No! Do they ask them to give players no time on the ball and get stuck in to their challenge? Most definitely! Players need to be responsible for their actions 100%. Another issue is not all leg breaking tackles are dirty. Take Shawcross and Ramsey, both went in with nothing but eyes for the ball. Ramsey pulls back from the challenge at the last moment, and it's this that causes the break. Did Shawcross deserve to be sent off? I don't think so. Was it dirty and ill intent? Not that i saw.
    I think our problem lies with the infalible men in black. Football is not black and white, alot of it is grey and this is where half the excitement of the game comes from. The problem being is that if a referee does make a big blunder nothing really is done about it. As professionals they need to be held accountable for their actions with the aim of keeping consistency with officials. What one official blows a whistle for another may say nothing. The indecisiveness of match officials encourages players to push their boundaries. I'm not looking to head hunt referees, but the sooner the officials are all on the same page with accountability for their actions, the sooner you will see player's follow suite. If their are players that are trouble tacklers still then the FA needs to intervene and take action. Not wash their hands of the matter because the referee didn't act(De Jong situation) when the challenge was made.

  • Comment number 87.

    I am so glad this topic of 'dirty', 'reckless' challenges is gaining momentum outside of the Emirates.

    Danny Murphy has to be commended for his bravery speaking out against clubs and managers who seem to have no problems in 'letting their man know they're there', especially as he is still a current professional footballer who still has to play against these teams and fans he has credited for being over zealous.

    I am all for banning players via a panel for longer than 3 games who has been found guilty of dangerous and reckless play but feel it will be a long time before FIFA ever let a panel decide on this and continue to bury their head in the sand and give out derisory 3 match bans to people like De Jong and Martin Taylor who sole purpose is to injure the opposing player just to let them know they are there, though I would state that I would like to think they had no intentions of leg breaking but still with their actions they always run the risk of doing so and lo and behold people end up with their legs snapped in two.

    These tackles have to erradicated from the game and 10, 15 game ban or even morefor these types of tackles would soon put astop to players going over the top and leaving the pitch flying into a player feeted.

    I also think MOTD and the other tv companies have a major part in educating the public in what is right and wrong and Hansen and co sitting laughing at the treatment Joey Barton got the other week is not the way to go about it.

    Kudos to Barton for not reacting but it is clear McCarthy sent his team out to use these disgusting tactics and how Barton was not seriously injured I will never know.

  • Comment number 88.

    Jon#73 - oh yes, please spare me from ever being forced to watch again the brutish thugs that are Matthew Etherington, Jermaine Pennant, Ricardo Fuller, Tuncay, Kenwyne Jones and Eidur Gudjohnson. Butchers the lot of 'em!!

    Good grief, man - may I suggest that, if you ever managed to fluke your way onto appearing on Mastermind, your specialist subject should surely be "sweeping generalisations about Stoke City FC"!!

  • Comment number 89.

    I pity the premier league because unless they protect excellent footballers,football is going to become like rugby


    Hold your horses there, rugby is a fine sport, and none of this protesting "ref you git" attitude is allowed, any moaning, any moaning at all and it's back 10 metres and so on.

    Ican tell you you just don't get theatrics of football, yes crunching tackles but for the most part "correct" tackles. Obviously you things like gouging etc but rugby is nowhere near the pantomime that football's become.

  • Comment number 90.

    EPL really needs to buckle up now! the referees in EPL matches have the tendency to act out of their 'common sense'(??)...Why else was De Jong not sent off in the WC finals? Because it was Webb and his EPL lineage! I have seen so many crazy tackles without even being shown a yellow! Arsenal are the worst sufferers but then also wonder why there will never be a Messi in the EPL? the skillful players need more protection, we dont spend money to see some idiot jump on the best players in the world with their open stud! Just follow the FIFA rules of red cards for tackles from behind... Trust me stricter referring for a couple of seasons will put this menace in bed! and yes people calling for not 'non contact' sports, start watching something else... Just because the English never played the beautiful game does not mean its supposed to be surrogate wrestling!

  • Comment number 91.

    when did football become fairyball when people who no nothing about the game ie belgians tell us how to play our sport god forbid they ever get there hands on rugby

  • Comment number 92.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 93.

    good points Phil
    my own thinking on it is that there's confusion between 'hard' and 'dirty' and 'premeditated' and 'of the moment'.
    The line between recklessness (of the moment) and dirty (premeditated) is a very fine one
    When managers send out their teams 'pumped up', particularly against the likes of Arsenal who are perceived as lightweight or whingers then the chances of crossing that fine line are greater.
    If the psychology is 'lets go out and get into them' because we're bnever going to be able to compete if we don't, thenm again I think the line is crossed
    From what I've seen of De Jong, Shawcross, Henry (this season)it's looking more like dirty

    Totally agree with Letsbe_avenue that the over physical approach is holding England back. Interesting that its the home rather than non British club managers who are encouraging it...

  • Comment number 94.

    I really wish people would stop saying that allowing reckless tackles will see football end up like rugby. It's not helpful. Roughing up players, barging, holding in the box, body checking etc could all perhaps be likened to Rugby. However these tactics, when used in football, are rarely dangerous and are not the subject of the post. Dangerous tackling in football usually involves heavily attacking bones and joints with your legs. Rugby is a heavy contact sport but has the sense to outlaw such stupid, dangerous practices. That's how they can keep players fit whilst smashing each other on a regular basis i.e. they are taught to tack properly. No sport should condone flying karate kicks to the leg... Rugby sure doesn't. Yet, so many people in the world of football seem uncomfortable with the idea of trying to stop it.

  • Comment number 95.

    I completely disagree with the argument that Mr McNulty puts forward, namely that the Premier League has become violent.

    As a big, but not necessarily skillful Centre Half I rely on my physical presence to prevent goals.

    A case in point was a small forward who nipped at my heels all game, completely outside the laws of the game. By half time I had stud marks down my calf/ankle but hadn't had a foul given nor a foul against me.

    After half time, I chased a ball with this person and in doing so shoulder charged (remember that!!!) him. He fell and broke his arm. I didn't mean to do that to him, merely to challenge (within the laws of the game) as strongly as possible.

    His injury caused me to be sent off and receive an official warning from the league and the FA about violent conduct.

    My point is that the majority of these actions are within the laws of the game. Football is a contact sport, and if we get rid of 50/50 challenges we end up with the prize players being protected too much. There is risk in every challenge, however it should only be a red card if it is malicious and done with "malice aforethought".
    If the challenge is a genuine attempt to win the ball and the player ends up injured, if it is not reckless there should be no action.

  • Comment number 96.

    Nice 'KICK' starter to the weekend this blog.

    Football is a contact sport and should remain so.
    And it's no secret that the lesser skilled teams will always be doing everything possible to stop a creative genius footballer doing what he does best.

    That same tactic was applied decades ago and will be applied in decades to come. With or without video replays.

    Should you stop it?
    No not at all!

    What is more exciting than when someone in their finest hour takes on a 'Taylor' and leaves him stranded behind, looking all embarrassingly dumb with his heavy clumsy self.

    That's what I love about football! When a 'Taylor' is made a laughing stock for his inept skills.

    What is not so great is when the 'Taylors' succeed with their tank boots and the boots are ready and polished just two minutes after the final whistle for next Saturday game.

    Does anyone want's to win the World Cup this way?
    BIG TIME NO!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 98.


    Sorry but you have misinterpreted the Ramsey/Shawcross incident. Aaron didn't "attempt to pull out of the challenge at the last minute." He was committed to winning the ball, trying to knock it forward into space to run on with it. Shawcross was committed also, but his challenge was heavy and arguably reckless because he came in low, swung his boot into it with all his body weight and momentum behind it (going over the ball), and really didn't give Aaron's bones any place to go. He either would have flown into the air or have his leg broken.

  • Comment number 99.

    re 52: I don't know if what you say is true, but if so I can only imagine it's a matter of consequences. In those days, a broken leg generally put a player permanently out of the game. I remember what a big thing it was that Dave Mackay came back from a broken leg in the European Cup semi-final (which had more to do with Spurs going out than Benfica's team), to continue a long and glorious career. This knowledge may have established some kind of behavioural limit among the professionals of the time. Now a broken leg, and other severe injuries are seen as career interruptions and players have lost sight of the seriousness of what they could cause. That and the lack of adequate incentives to curtail violent activity (compared to the incentives on the other side of the equation). Just a suggestion.

  • Comment number 100.

    I think there's a difference in kicking someone, letting them know you're there, and these horror tackles we're seeing. I don't know why, but to me roughing up the opposition can be a good tactic as it unsettles the opposition's players and levels the match up. However, what I cannot stand are the tackles that Nigel de Jong keeps making. He's injuring players, possibly destroying careers, and in the world cup final, he was lucky that he didn't do serious damage to Xabi Alonso's insides.


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