Football. Still a contact sport.

by Eamonn Power

Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City is sent off by Referee Peter Walton for a challenge on Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at The Britannia Stadium on February 27, 2010 in Stoke on Trent, England.

First things first, I watched the ArsenalStoke game and was absolutely devastated for Aaron Ramsey. I wouldn’t wish such an injury on any player and I wish him all the best in his recovery. I sincerely hope that his healing will not deny him an inch of the pace, talent and skill that he possesses and he will go onto to fulfil the promising career he had been promised. I’d like to remind everyone of Henrik Larrsson whose own leg break years ago was one of the worst ever to be witnessed, yet he still managed to rebuild his career and carry on being the excellent player he was. Latest news reports tell us that surgery on the injury has gone well and Ramsey could be back within six months.

Much has been made of the incident in the past few days but as the dust settles somewhat I think it important for people to consider the fact that football remains (and will forever continue to do so) a contact sport. As is the case  in all  sports of this nature there are going to be injuries. Some will be minor, some will be horrific. Unfortunately for Arsenal, the injuries that have occurred to Ramsey, Eduardo and Abou Diaby in recent years were of the latter category and so I can empathize somewhat with Wenger over some of the claims he made in the heat of the moment after last Saturday’s game. Nevertheless, I hope the Arsenal boss will take time to reconsider some of these statements now that he has had a chance to step back and assess the situation. His damnation of Ryan Shawcross was unfair and inconsiderate.

Spare me the articles tomorrow about how nice Shawcross is because we had all that with Eduardo

To be completely honest, I find this a little rich coming from a manager who spent a large part of his early Arsenal days defending the club’s despicable disciplinary record as Adams, Keown and Viera were dismissed week in, week out, often for tackles much worse than what occurred last Saturday.

It would also seem the manager has a very short and selective memory. On January 20th, Arsenal played Bolton. During the course of the game, Arsenal’s William Gallas contested a ball with Bolton midfielder Mark Davies. The Frenchman went in high over the ball and stood into Davies’ ankle with enough force to suggest that a serious injury was probable. Luckily, it was avoided. but when questioned about the incident, Wenger had this to say -

“I feel in this special incident I feel there was too much made of it…That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mis-timed challenge, but it was without any intention to harm the player.”

Sound familar?

Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City leaves the pitch in tears after being  sent off for a challenge on Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal during the Barclays  Premier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at The Britannia  Stadium on February 27, 2010 in Stoke on Trent, England.Ryan Shawcross (pictured) went into a 49-51 challenge in a whole-hearted fashion, as he is paid to do and as he has done all his career to the point where he has deservedly been handed an England call-up. Had Aaron Ramseys toe not gotten to the ball miliseconds before the tackle was made, the Stoke centre half would have been the recipient of a huge cheer from the crowd, a pat on the back from his teammates and a moment in the highlights reel on Match of the Day.

A strong tackle is often as welcome as a neat turn or a stylish flick and this is the way it should remain. How often do we hear pundits claim that foreign imports are soft and afraid of themselves? This season, Birmingham’s Roger Johnson has received rave reviews for being an “old-fashioned centre-half, not afraid to put his body in where it hurts”.

Football is a game played at speed and often played as a game where a matter of inches can change everything. No more so is this the case than when a potentially excellent tackle can turn into a career ender in less than a blink of an eye. Its an unfortunate element of the game we love.

Arsenal are a team who play to their strengths, their slick passing and movement is often a joy to watch, but the possession game they play is always going to result in teams performing a higher number of tackles upon them as they try to interrupt it. Stoke are a lot more than just a physical side like Bolton of a few years ago but they have shown in the past that they are able to make life hard for the big teams they play by pressurising their every touch. This is their strength and it is foolish for Wenger, Fabregas et al to claim that they should not be allowed to play to it.

Although they have suffered far more than any other club, Wenger must not believe that they are the sole ones at risk. Almost every week in the Premier League we see  tackles that could easily result in the horrific injuries we witnessed this weekend. A fraction of them occur against Arsenal and despite Wenger’s claims otherwise, it is bad fortune that they suffer more than most. Any fan who witnessed the Merseyside derby last month will remember the series of fierce tackles delivered from both sides and the rapturous applause that often followed. Marrouance Fellaini suffered an injury on that day that has ruled him out for six months. In the  contested tackle in which this injury occurred, the Belgian international  managed to inflict a gash on Sotirios Kyrgiakos’s leg that saw the Greek defender require stitches follwing his dismissal. Both players attempted to win the ball with enthusiasm, both were wounded.

I really hope I don’t sound too harsh here, but when players are allowed slide along the ground and  throw themselves into tackles it is inevitable that there will sometimes be casualties ……. so what is the answer? Remove the physical side of the game which people constantly deride for “not being as physical as it was in the good old days”. Its not an option.

I have watched countless games and cheered heartily when Wes Brown crunches an opponent with a completely fair tackle. Find me a fan who claims he hasn’t done likewise when supporting his own team and has derided Ryan Shawcross this weekend and I’ll show you a liar and a hypocrite.

Finally, well done to Arsenal for rallying around and going on to win the game. The performance of Cesc Fabregas following his teammates injury was truly inspirational and the young Spaniard demonstrated the leadership that John Terry, Steven Gerrard and co. have been lauded for for many years. As a United fan who has spent many years despising the Gunners I can honestly say that if the Premier League trophy does not end up in Old Trafford in May, I hope it makes its way to to North London.

5 Responses

  1. Dena says:

    Hear hear! It’s nice to see something written rationally about the subject.

    Horrible to see & I hope Ramsey makes a full and speedy recovery. I also hope that Shawcross doesn’t suffer from this either – the tackle was a hard one, but was without malicious intent. Just one of those really unfortunate things imho.

    Great post.

  2. Rob Marrs says:

    Agree with this. Great post.

    RCM

  3. Ed Diggins says:

    great stuff Eamon. posts like this every day will make this a great site.

  4. braveheartspawn says:

    Great Post on a difficult subject…..such a shame that it has happened to such a young talent….fortunately for Ramsey if he does lose a yard of pass there is far more areas in his game that will make him still have a successful career. I hope Shawcross gets a run for England…..im sure he will be thinking of Ramsey that day….it is the most fitting way to show his regret by thinking of him on his first cap

  5. Andrew says:

    Read this:
    http://www.oleole.com/blogs/arseblog/posts/quothe039s-not-that-kind-of-playerquot

    it may be from an Arsenal blog, and therefore pretty biased, but it does offer incontrovertible proof that Shawcross has a bit of previous when it comes to this kind of stuff.

    As does this video, from early on in Shawcross’ career:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JImCLHKXTOs

    Accidents happen in sport, I’ve been the victim of a couple of them, but reckless play can ruin careers and shouldn’t be encouraged.

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