‘Reckless Endangerment’

Written by  //  October 9, 2010  //  Sport  //  2 Comments

Nigel de Jong on Hatem ben Arfa and Karl Henry on Jordi Gomez represent only the latest in what is a growing trend of utterly callous tackles in the Barclays Premier League. Worrying as it may be, the Premier League’s attitude towards such challenges hasn’t seen much of a shift. Football is no doubt a contact sport and the element of physicality mustn’t be stripped out of the game, but there is a line that should be drawn somewhere, that separates the acceptable from the condemnable.

The Guardian’s Richard Williams suggests a new regulation – ‘reckless endangerment’ as he calls it, which would be an ‘equivalent to the law against driving without care and attention, rigorously punished by dismissal to ensure offenders get the point’. Very often, we see footballers gesticulate to form their hands into the shape of the ball, as if to suggest that they made contact with the ball while tackling, or that they were seeking to get the ball, and therefore, that they shouldn’t be punished. This, Williams seeks to propose should not be a factor in determining the gravity of an offence. Regardless of whether the tackler intended to go for the ball or whether the tackler actually made contact with the ball, the referee must judge whether the tackler had taken due care and attention in ensuring that the opponent will not be periled.

De Jong, startlingly, wasn’t even accorded a yellow card for his tackle on ben Arfa. Surprisingly, in a career in which he could have received half a dozen red cards in the World Cup final alone, de Jong has only been dismissed once – in a UEFA cup match between Hamburg and Rapid Bucaresti. Bert van Marvijk – the Netherlands’ manager – thought the tackle on ben Arfa to be harsh enough to drop de Jong from the Dutch squad for the country’s Euro 2012 qualifiers against Moldova and Sweden. Cynics, however, say that the action should have come much earlier and dropping de Jong for games against minnows, Moldova and a struggling Swedish side is likely to be of little consequence. That said: should it have been left to van Marvijk to take action, while the Premier League and the PFA let the incident run unpunished?

In the space of a few months, de Jong has broken both Bolton’s Stuart Holden’s and ben Arfa’s leg, while putting under threat nearly every opponent he came up against at the World Cup finals. Yet, Brian Kidd, Manchester City’s Assistant Manager claims, ‘De Jong is not that kind of player’. Then, I wonder, what kind of a player he is? I am not suggesting that the Dutchman is the only one of an ilk, but, that inaction from authorities and referees alike is contributing towards a growing recklessness amongst modern-day footballers.

The Premier League’s failure to act upon careless challenges even on the basis of concrete video evidence is only fuelling this mounting trend. Although, a referee may have seen a concerned incident, it may at times be difficult for the official to gauge the recklessness of the tackle, instantaneously. The authorities must therefore, step in under such circumstances to penalise the tackler with a ban and a fine, if need be, that will act as a strong deterrent. It makes little sense to let incidents pass unpunished on the basis of the referee having viewed the incident, and decided against taking penal action. Moreover, intention as Williams ever so rightly points out, is often tough to determine. The authorities must, hence, act on the basis of the recklessness of the tackle, regardless of the tackler’s intention to injure, and accordingly determine the punishment.

2 Comments on "‘Reckless Endangerment’"

  1. Eashan November 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm ·

    You make an interesting point. I’m just not sure how much more the authorities can and should do about these ‘reckless’ tackles.

    The line you’re looking to draw between the acceptable and the condemnable is really tough to do because tackling is always about timing and nothing in the world is going to change the desire of two competitive footballers to get to a 50-50 ball first. In attempting to do so, especially while chasing a ball in play into open space or near the touchline, the sole aim is (as it should be) to get the first touch on the ball with any permissible extension of your body which often involves going studs first or unnaturally bending your body shape to reach the ball or both. Unfortunately, plenty of these situations will easily (and frequently appear to) fall outside your ‘due care and attention’ requirement both, in cases where they do and do not cause horrible injuries.

    In cases where they don’t, not only did nobody get hurt, but you seek to ban a player because he did something that ‘looks bad’, which is ridiculously subjective and is usually painted in the colours of which side you’re cheering on. What’s more, the people in the English FA are, by the necessary virtue of seniority, from a different era–an era of Billy Bremner and ‘Chopper’ Harris–and a lot of today’s tackling is, by their standards, distinctly wishy-washy. They just have a different conception of what is acceptable and condemnable, one which is difficult to dislodge.

    In cases where they do cause horrible injuries, this ‘due care and attention’ requirement is really dodgy because lots of such incidents are still simply not fouls. In fact, the sickening David Busst injury–possibly the worst-ever in the Premier League–really had no culprit because both Irwin and McClair were going for the ball in the way I described above.

    To the best of my knowledge, the English FA has in place a review panel for precisely this purpose, which is empowered to retrospectively extend red-card ban lengths (as it did with the Vieira spitting incident), impose bans where the referee missed the incident and–equally importantly, in my opinion–overturn red-cards/ban-lengths, where the referee, not the player, acted rashly. It’s a little difficult to argue that they simply didn’t see the Ben Arfa tackle or, indeed, the Ramsey or Eduardo tackles but the fact that they decided to uphold three-match bans and no more in the latter two cases means that they went through the same thought process you did and came to the opposite conclusion. I don’t think they can be blamed for that. I can’t think of how this ‘due care and attention’ idea would change their mind about Shawcross (in the Ramsey case) or Taylor (Eduardo).

    Perhaps more importantly, this new standard would exacerbate the problems of the victims of these generalisations–the Bartons, Savages and, if you insist, the De Jongs of this world. It’s impossible to see how, over time, a standard like this wouldn’t ensure that players like them who are, at the end of the day, immensely valuable to their respective teams get banned for several games because of one debatable incident and the undeniable, immense baggage they carry of being ‘those types of players’.

    Finally, I don’t think bans (and certainly not fines) deter this kind of behaviour. Banning De Jong for a season isn’t going to turn him into a Maradona-like passer and dribbler because he doesn’t know how to play any other way and that’s why he’s in the team. If you ban him, the team will get someone else (who is possibly worse, by virtue of the fact that De Jong is keeping him out of the team) to do exactly what he does because it remains essential to the team’s strategy.

    The truth is, the game, especially in England, is developing a rapidly growing gap between the fast, skilful players and the hard tacklers and when those two sets come together, injuries are bound to happen–not always because players are reckless but because the other player is quicker and more skilful. Hacking down Messi when he’s about to shoot for goal is as much a part of football as him scoring a goal. That view, however regressive it may seem to the connoisseurs, deserves its own (because it behooves me to end with a bad pun) due care and attention.

  2. Suhrith November 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm ·

    Eashan,

    You make a lot of valid points. But I wouldn’t agree that hacking Messi down when he’s about to shoot is as much a part of football, as him scoring a goal. I think that’s exactly the kind of tackling that deserves no place in football. And this rule of the referee having seen an incident, and decided against imposing a penalty on the tackler, and therefore that no retrospective action can be taken needs to be looked into. De Jong’s tackle on Ben Arfa, even by the most subjective of analyses, is deserving of retrospective punishment. It’s almost like De Jong goes around breaking people’s feet for fun, and that I think is unacceptable. I agree with you that a standard of this kind is bound to be subjective, but most decision-making in football is so. At the end of the day, an individual or a bunch of individuals are going to look into whether a tackle was reckless and accordingly take action. That decision, I believe, should be taken keeping in mind this standard.

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