Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Agüero’s curious "tackle" lays bare need for rule change

Following Sergio Agüero’s … enthusiastic … challenge upon David Luiz’s hindquarters during this weekend’s FA Cup Semi-Final, the issue of crude tackles has once again been thrust into football’s spotlight. 

Agüero, who scored a decisive goal in City’s 2-0 triumph, appeared to drop-kick the Chelsea centre-back in the posterior at about the 82-minute mark and escaped without serious censure from referee Chris Foy.  
The incident – which you can view below – appears to show the Argentine beaten for a ball by Luiz, who goes to ground.  Agüero’s response is to go to ground himself, cleats first and no matter whose butt was lay in his way.  The result: a free kick to the Blues.

Should a player commit a poor foul, it is FA policy – barring “special circumstances” – to avoid further punishing players for such infractions.  It is their position that retrospective action would undermine a referee’s control of the game.  This posture assumes of course that the referee had control (and adequate sight-lines) in the first place.

It’s time for that rule to change.  To avoid serious injuries as a result of unduly rough play, the FA needs to seriously consider retrospective punishment.  That Agüero – and Callum McManaman – escaped serious punishment for poorly executed or deliberate feet-first contact is galling and it’s fortunate that their victims weren’t more seriously injured. 

It is a paramount duty of Football Associations to ensure player safety.  In order to do so, perhaps inspiration can come from the Australian Football League.  In the late 1980s, this competition instituted a “trial-by-video” system to eliminate rampant behind the play violence and to compensate for incidents the officiating umpires might have missed.  In so doing injuries as a result of player violence by dint of negligence or vindictiveness has been reduced markedly. 

In the AFL, each case is judged according to a penal matrix which assigns a points value to the incident’s intent (which can be graded intentional, reckless, negligent or accidental), impact (deemed severe, high, medium, low, negligible) and point of contact (was it to the head, groin or body?).  Players who score highly – for example a deliberate punch to the face of an opponent – are in line to receive far harsher sanctions than someone who negligently knees a player to the ribs.  Penalties are then meted out according to a similar system, with good or bad behavior bonds and early guilty pleas serving as multipliers.

Precedents are inadmissible evidence, meaning every player receives the same judgment.  More importantly, each player are charged with protecting player safety and made aware this duty of care is expected of them.  
For football, the point of contact might be adapted to assess how high up the “target” player’s leg impact occurs.

With such a system, Agüero’s challenge might be assessed as reckless, medium and to the upper leg, thus earning a moderately severe ban.

Football Associations across the globe must do more to ensure player safety and avoid cases like Ben Collett, Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo.  This is one way to empower players in taking charge of their own on-field security.  There has been one incident too many.

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