Tuesday, October 5, 2010

van Marwijk sets a laudable precedent

With his decision not to select Nigel De Jong for the Netherlands two Euro 2012 qualifiers this week against Moldova & Sweden, coach Bert van Marwijk has made a call which should be roundly applauded all over the football world.

Nigel de Jong is not a hack. Nor is he a thug. Unfortunately however, he has approached the latter title with his performances over recent months. His high-kick to Xabi Alonso in the World Cup notwithstanding, de Jong has been the subject of scrutiny for his tackles throughout this Premier League season, with the heat intensifying since this weekend's leg-breaking challenge on new Newcastle Golden Boy Hatem Ben Arfa. Although the tackle was innocuous enough at the time, it left Ben Arfa with not one broken bone in his lower leg but two, and his crumpled form lies alongside those others de Jong has injured during his time in England; names like Alonso and Stuart Holden.

Over recent years we've seen a number of defenders receive death threats due to either the injudiciousness or unluckiness of their tackles – Martin Taylor and Ryan Shawcross spring readily to mind – but rarely does the punishment, which in England maxes out at a three game ban, fit the offense. “He's not that type of player” is often trotted out when one player is injured by the tackle of another. I haven't honestly seen enough of de Jong to say whether he is suffers from bad technique, bad judgement or bad luck, but with repeat offenses a player moves catgories from “not that guy” to “not him again”. The issue here however is not whether the Man City midfielder is evil, misguided or even unlucky. It's that his national team coach van Marwijk has chosen not to select him as punishment for his indiscretions.

When Holland's manager said in the media he couldn't select a player who has committed such acts, he must be balancing two trains of thought. First, he is certainly thinking about the results of his team. The publicity de Jong has received due to these unfortunate leg-breaking incidents is sure to be remembered by any referee he happens to cross. Should the big fella even blink incorrectly he risks immediate and harsh sanctions, potentially leaving the Netherlands down a man against big group rivals Sweden. Better to leave him out for this International Break, let the furore simmer down and select him next time.

Second though, BVM must be thinking of the big picture. The job of creating and guiding a team philosophy is solely that of the manager. It is his selection of both playing and back-room personnel that indicate the personality of a team and he's the one who both lays down and enforces standards. By van Marwijk refusing to select a player who has form for injurious challenges it sends a message both to Nigel de Jong and the rest of the football world that malarkey of this kind is not to be tolerated – should you tackle poorly, there will be ramifications. He should be congratulated for taking such a stand. It's unlikely his decision will be emulated by other managers as they may not have either the replacement talent at their disposal, nor the job security to be able to omit one of their most productive players. The man in charge making statements about the players he will or will not select is a very clear message, and loud enough that it should be heard all over the football world.

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