Date: 3rd December 2007 at 2:43pm
Written by:

It`s easy to feel some sympathy with Robbie Keane in the context of fouls that are usually allowed in the English game but if his sending off against Birmingham marks a hardening of attitudes to this type of tackle I applaud it. His tackle was reckless and potentially dangerous. There have been worse this season. Hleb in particular suffered nasty fouls against West Ham and Sunderland only one of which received a red card.

Cynics will argue along the lines that football will be the poorer if the game becomes a non contact sport. There is some danger of that and it will always be a fine line to judge whether a foul is reckless or not. By reckless I mean that it is made without due consideration of whether there is a significant risk of injuring a player or not. There has to be an element of risk in any physical contact. It is ironic that Muamba who was on the receiving end of Keane`s tackle was unhurt and then went on to tackle Bale fairly, which resulted in Bale going off. But I don`t think that it should be beyond the wit of officials to decide whether a tackle has at least a 50% chance of success or not though I also accept that this will always be subjective. That is also the case at present though, as referees have to judge intent which is entirely subjective and even harder to measure in my view.

Carew`s tackle on Hleb on Saturday wasn`t dangerous but it was intentional and as he had no chance of winning the ball it should have been deemed reckless and therefore resulted in a mandatory red.

I doubt whether the appetite for hardening the rules to eliminate reckless tackles exists in the English game. The fear that we will lose something (passion, commitment, and fight) will prevail amongst the popular press and pundits here for some time. Hardly a weekend goes by without some pundit advocating that a struggling team needs to ‘get into them` ‘let them know you`re up for it` ‘bring them down` ‘foul him if you have to`. On the other hand clubs losing increasingly expensive players for substantial parts of the season should focus the thoughts of club owners and some managers in favour of some greater protection of their assets.

I really wouldn`t like to see football become a non-contact sport. A brilliantly timed tackle is a much greater skill than any number of stepovers, but I don`t think the game will suffer at all from a reduction in the type of tackles that Keane and Carew made at the weekend. It would simply encourage better tackling skills and maybe permit those that can tackle well to receive greater acknowledgement of their skills.