Having been dismissed as a whinger and a moaner it seems that Wengers long standing criticism of poor tackling skills might be coming of age.
A number of injuries in the Premier League this season including broken limbs for Zamora and Ben Arfa has strengthened a debate that had already benefited from a wider criticism of the tactics employed by the Dutch, notably van Bommel, in the last World Cup. Perhaps it is this criticism that led the Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk to drop Nigel de Jong from the current Euro qualifiers with the comment that “I have a problem with the way Nigel needlessly looks to push the limit. I am going to speak to him.”
It was a stance cautiously applauded by Fifa executive committee member Dr Michel D`Hooghe. “I have made a compilation of brutality over the last two or three years in the main competitions in the world and it is amazing,” said D`Hooghe. “On the one hand I am happy that some leaders take responsibility – on the other hand I am very sad that he did not do the same at the final of the World Cup.”
When Wenger responded with more than a little scepticism, a few weeks back, to an invitation to comment on Robinson`s unpunished tackle on Diaby after the recent home game against Bolton he was, as he predicted, dismissed as a moaner and whinger. The media were only too keen to seek the equally predictable scorn of perpetrators of footballs shameful defenders of bad tackles with Pulis and Allardyce providing the ammunition to further the claim that Arsene was just seeking special treatment for his own players. That it was like asking Josef Fritzl for his views on parenting didn`t matter to those who wanted soundbites more than they really wanted a considered view.
It seems now though others are beginning to wake up to the realisation that if we encourage such play, or even if we just fail to condemn it robustly enough, it isn`t just Arsenal players who get hurt. Fulham’s midfielder Danny Murphy has specifically criticised the managers of Stoke, Blackburn and Wolves for encouraging bad tackles. “The pace some of the players are going into tackles at is ridiculous,” said Murphy. “There are no brains in the players doing that. I don`t believe they are going out to break the legs of their opponents but there`s no logic or intelligence in what they are doing.
“If you`re going in at a certain pace and don`t get it right you are going to hurt someone. Players need to be more intelligent, especially the ones who are doing it repeatedly. They are culpable in that. You get managers sending teams out to stop other sides from playing, which is happening more and more,” he said. “Stoke, Blackburn and Wolves ? you can say they`re doing what they can to win the game ? but the fact is that the managers are sending the players out so pumped up that inevitably there are going to be problems.”
At least Wenger isn`t a lone voice for the time being. His resignation a few weeks back to the fact that nothing would change unless others in the media were prompted to look at the benefits of encouraging good tackling as opposed to defending bad tackles may have found support quicker than he might have believed at the time. There is a debate underway at last. Whether it can be sustained unless some other poor soul gets clogged remains to be seen.
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