Wednesday, October 6, 2010

With injurious tackles, intent is irrelevant

In her blog piece “de Jong tackle devoid of intent”, ESPN's Rebecca Lowe has completely missed the point with regards overzealous tackling in world football. She describes it as “just one of those incidents”, while saying that Toon manager Chris Hughton was “more angry with referee Martin Atkinson about the penalty than the tackle”. There's no question Hughton would be more concerned about the penalty conceded - Managers focus on what they can control, rather than what they cannot.

Her next sentence however gives the game away. “I think the general consensus is that it was a bad tackle, but it wasn't intended to break his leg”. Of course it wasn't aimed at breaking Hatem Ben Arfa's leg! What ridiculous, fatuous nonsense! Rebecca Lowe has missed the point like an Asamoah Gyan penalty: very rarely will a player set out to intentionally injure another. It occasionally happens – a la Roy Keane and Alf-Inge Haaland – but the fact is Nigel de Jong has form for injurious tackles and as such intent doesn't matter. Either his technique is very poor, his decision making is very poor or he is extremely unfortunate. There is no middle ground. That Lowe suggests that players are now “afraid” to tackle because they risk a card is ludicrous given the voracity with which de Jong has challenged Alonso, Stuart Holden and now Ben Arfa.

To defend a player and say he shouldn't be punished because he didn't mean to injure someone is akin to defending a motorist who by poor driving ability breaks a pedestrian's leg. If you can't do something dangerous well, then you should use caution when applying that dangerous procedure, it's simple risk minimisation. More than that, it's plain common sense and common sense should always apply on the sports field.

A player who tackles poorly deserves to be punished, especially if the tackle seriously hurts another player. Calls for the tackling to be banned for as long as the tackled one are completely unworkable but without question a three-game ban is completely insufficient for a challenge of such magnitude and destructiveness. Repeat offenders, of which there can be no question that de Jong and Wolves' Karl Henry are, must be punished more severely by the powers-that-be. If that is a FA-sanctioned ban or their national team coach omitting them. Intent just doesn't enter into the matter – the result is all that matters. That being said, poor challenges often don't have such a traumatic result, so hindsight is very much the key action in play here.

Perhaps it would be best to assemble a matrix as in the Australian Football League. In such a system, challenges and offences are graded according to whether they are Negligent, Reckless or Intentional and punished according to a sliding scale. Another layer is added if a challenge is assessed as being Low, Medium or High Impact; in this system a player is punished more with a more serious injury. Should a tackle not be ranked as negligent, reckless or intentional then the impact would not count against the “offender” - take for example the Kirk Broadfoot/Antonio Valencia injury three weeks ago.

With this system, the AFL has stamped out a lot of head-high contact and the duty of care in preventing injuries and concussions rests solely on the defender. Many sports have the defender accountable for injuries incurred while guarding their goals, it's time for football to wise up and do likewise.

No comments:

Post a Comment