Saturday, 23 March 2013

Dangerous Tackling? Blame The FA.

By Shane Thomas

Regular readers of this blog (all two of them) will know that one of my biggest bugbears in football is dangerous tackling. Even more infuriating is seeing such conduct go unpunished. So like many in football, the FA's decision not to take retrospective action against Wigan's Callum McManaman for his egregious challenge on Newcastle's Massadio Haidara left me disgusted.
Personally, I think the opprobrium being aimed towards McManaman should focus solely on the challenge. One should appraise what he did, rather than extrapolate that to make judgments on who he is as an individual.

But the point of this isn't to highlight McManaman, but to shine a spotlight on the FA's antiquated disciplinary process. Their reasoning for allowing the on-field decision to stand is because it was adjudged as a clean tackle during the game, and as such, can't be changed according to FIFA rules.

Ok, let's start with that. Match referee, Mark Halsey said that he hadn't seen the challenge - replays show that his view of the incident was obscured. However, once one of Halsey's assistants, Matthew Wilkes stated that he had seen the tackle, thereby precluding further action being taken. However, Wilkes also said that he hadn't spotted, "the full extent of the challenge". So the FA are making their adjudication based on an expurgated sightline of a referee's assistant?

Personally, there's only two ways in which I can slice this. Those working at the FA who make these verdicts are either grossly incompetent, or (my opinion) they don't particularly care about the safety of their workforce.

I'll say that again. The FA don't particularly care about the safety of their workforce. An incendiary statement, maybe. But not only is this willful negligence on their part. This is repeated willful negligence. Last weekend it was Massadio Haidara. But in the past it's been Moussa Dembele, Abou Diaby, Ian Hume, Eduardo Da Silva, Hatem Ben Arfa and Aaron Ramsey. Punitive measures - in some, but not all of these cases - have resulted in no more than a 3 match ban.

The FA's reasoning for being unable to take further action is that FIFA have ruled that the referee's decision must be final. However, when talking about this topic in 2011, Sepp Blatter is quoted as saying, "...this is up to the discretion of the national association. If there is violence, the national association can intervene and punish a player."

Hmm, so not only are the FA being completely supine, but also mendacious. It turns out that their hands aren't tied by the evil-Death Star of FIFA after all. So why do they seem so disinterested? As I said, I think it's because disinterested is exactly what they are.

But there is an exception to this rule. Football's governing bodies have proven themselves nothing if not sclerotic down the years. It's not that they won't change, but they'll need a compelling reason to do so. So while players continue to endanger their peers, knowing that the penalties are light, eventually it won't be a Moussa Dembele or Ian Hume who gets caught in the cross-hairs. It will be a Jack Wilshere, a Gareth Bale, or a Tom Cleverley.

Think the FA won't react then? They'll be forced to. The outrage from the press and social media will be volcanic. It'll be football's main talking point for weeks. FIFA have already shown such reactive thinking with their stance on goalline technology. Leading into the 2010 World Cup, Sepp Blatter said it would never happen while he was in charge. Until Frank Lampard had a perfectly good goal disallowed in the last 16 against Germany. Blatter went on to perform a volte-face that Judas Iscariot would have been proud of.

Expect the same reaction from the FA once a prized British player is on the receiving end of a reckless tackle. And notice how I said British. The aforementioned list of players who have been endangered by their fellow professionals (bar Ramsey) are all foreigners, tying in to the ridiculous stereotype of foreign players being intrinsically weaker than their British counterparts.

But behaving reactively is not good enough. Especially as many other leagues around the world are prepared to act after the final whistle to punish dangerous play. France's Ligue 1 have banned Nice's Valentin Eysseric for 11 games after this horrific tackle on St. Etienne's Jeremy Clement. Both codes of rugby are also swift to act when it comes to violent conduct on the pitch.

This isn't absolving footballers from the duty of care they have to their peers, but why should they act with any responsibility and attention, when the people in charge of the English game refuse to do so?

While the FA continue to sit on their hands, they are complicit in the outcome of every player injured as a result of a tackle that has no business being in the game. After what happened to Haidara, some are holding Callum McManaman in contempt. Personally, I'm reserving my contempt for the FA. If anyone deserves a disrepute charge for the past few days, it's them.

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