In acknowledging that Cesc had apologised for a poor tackle on Stephen Ward, for which he received a yellow card, Mick McCarthy said that he hasn’t any problem with tackling and wishes everyone would stop talking about it. He’s wrong because though no-one got injured in the game there were tackles that were careless or reckless which might have caused injury. Cesc’s was one which in another game he might have received a red card for. Not because it was particularly dangerous as both players were moving in the same direction so any potential impact was limited. But it was careless and unnecessary in that area of the pitch. He couldn’t have anticipated that he would have had much chance of winning the ball launching his tackle from where he did and shouldn`t have been encouraged to believe he could do so. But the tolerance level of the game is set by the match referee who had allowed a worse tackle to go unpunished where Arshavin and Henry were moving towards each other and the potential for serious damage much more likely. The tackle from Henry was over the ball but fortunately Arshavin reacted in time and pulled his leg back sharply to minimise the impact.
They’ll be a temptation among some to see the mention of the Henry tackle in the same paragraph as the Fabregas tackle as an attempt to justify the latter. It doesn’t at all but the significance is that they appear in the same game. It’s also worth remembering that in this whole debate about tackling standards Wenger made it clear that sometimes his players tackle badly too. A point he made explicitly when responding to a reporter`s question on tackling earlier in the season saying at the time
“Don’t take me wrong we make as well sometimes bad fouls and I have the same responsibility than you. What I mean, me alone, I’ve not enough power. It is the referees, the people who watch the games, the people who write about it have the same responsibility as I have.”
Part of the problem is that as violence begets violence so bad tackles encourage other bad tackles. If the referees don’t take a firm stand and only respond when serious injury has been the consequence then the problem will continue. If they allow the law to be disregarded then a form of lawlessness among players should be expected. In an excellent piece in the Independent last month James Lawton referred to just such a culture in the 60s and 70s when even a player who`s abilities where as skill based as George Best`s could break someone`s leg as a result of a bad tackle. Lawton wrote at the time “… back in the ’60s and ’70s the failure of the authorities to take proper action against the worst of the violence, and the sheer inefficiency of the leading referees, created a culture of self-help among the most creative of players.” I’m not saying that Cesc’s tackle was an act of retribution for other tackles in the same game but it’s not hard to see how such a mindset can come about. It’s for the referee’s and others in the game to discourage the players from making tackles they can`t exercise enough control over.
I don’t wish to paint Wolves or McCarthy as specific examples of teams that play rough. There are better examples. They play a pressing but intelligent game that is still grounded in a genuine endeavour to play football but now is not the time to stop talking about tackling. Wenger spoke to Cesc immediately after the game specifically about the tackle as his post match comments made apparent. Cesc also apologised to the player. So they are talking about it. Neither excuses the fact that Cesc was probably lucky to escape a red card given the desire to eliminate careless tackles as much as possible but it does show a level of responsibility for their actions. It’s not clear whether McCarthy spoke to Henry and as it went unpunished neither did the media highlight his tackle. Rather than stop perhaps Mick needs to start talking about tackling and not just hope the issue will blow over. His first conversation needs to be with Karl Henry. Wenger has already spoken to Cesc.
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