Anyone who has ever listened to BBC 5 Live’s weekly ‘Fighting Talk’ panel programme will be familiar with the ‘Defend the Indefensible’ round, where contestants are required to talk for 20 seconds in support of an apparently untenable position. For instance: ‘The BBC should abandon its bid for the Champions League coverage if it’s going to affect even one minute of crown green bowling.’ (What’s so indefensible about that?!?)
Since the events of Saturday lunchtime, when Arsenal’s Eduardo da Silva suffered a season-ending – and potentially career-ending – injury after a tackle by Birmingham’s Martin Taylor, the airwaves, print media and the Internet have been filled with anger, bile and, in a handful of cases, worse. The overwhelming volume of emotional outbursts is hardly surprising given the horrific nature of the injury suffered by Eduardo, but I find myself in the unusual position of wanting to stand up for the difficult-to-defend positions of some of the key parties involved.
Let’s start with Mike Dean, the referee whose decision it was to issue a straight red card to Taylor. Some have said Dean only chose to send the player off in response to the obvious severity of Eduardo’s injury. There have even been some dissenting voices (notably Taylor’s former boss, Steve Bruce) claiming the tackle did not even merit a booking. Others have pointed out that we have seen a number of more dangerous tackles escape with lesser (or no) punishment this season, so perhaps the red card was a tad harsh.
I say two wrongs don’t make a right. Just because some obvious red card challenges have been missed by officials does not justify leniency in the case of others. The overwhelming weight of opinion from pundits and fans who have seen the video replay seems to agree unreservedly with Dean’s decision, and it’s hard to argue that a player who jumps in with studs raised and catches an opponent halfway between ankle and knee does not deserve to be dismissed for dangerous play. Dean made the right decision; it is other, more lenient refs who have been in error. And the fact that Dean went on to have a poor game thereafter – Birmingham’s goals came courtesy of a questionable free kick and a penalty award which was simply wrong – can perhaps also be excused given what he had witnessed earlier. Either way, it’s probably best to draw a line under the game, and I don’t see why Mr Dean should have to justify his decision.
What of Martin Taylor? Birmingham have understandably circled the wagons around their player to protect him, but he has nonetheless been an easy target, the poster boy for all that is wrong with our dangerous, reckless footballers. Certainly Arsene Wenger didn’t help with his initial post-match reaction, claiming that Taylor should never be allowed to play again. But there is nothing in the video replays or the player’s history to suggest there was any malice aforethought; it appears more to be a misguided, ill-advised challenge by a defender early on in a game where he has simply been outfoxed by an opponent’s quick feet. A red card offence, yes, but no more than that.
As Alan Hansen said on Match of the Day, Taylor didn’t sprint 15 or 20 yards and lunge in two-footed. Nor did he jump in with the obvious intent of, say, Roy Keane on Alf-Inge Haaland, or Ben Thatcher on Pedro Mendes. He made a mistake, albeit one with terrible consequences, but a mistake was all it was. And it’s not as if this was the first time a player has suffered such a horrific injury: to the aforementioned Haaland add David Busst, Djibril Cisse, Alan Smith and countless others. Not to mention Cameroon international Marc-Vivien Foe and Seville defender Antonio Puerta, who both died playing the game they loved.
Taylor’s actions are certainly not worthy of the death threats he has allegedly received on a Croatian website set up in support of Eduardo. Some people need to get a sense of perspective. Or a life.
Finally, Le Prof. I’ve mentioned Wenger’s post-match comments already, which were clearly made in the heat of the moment but, as his later statement of retraction said, were excessive. That should have been the end of that, and yet some have chosen to point out that Wenger’s words fall short of a full apology. And on no less a serious station than 5 Live, I even heard it suggested yesterday that Wenger may have been forced into his retraction by an Arsenal board who are keen to maintain a positive PR position and cordial relations with Birmingham, a club to whom we have sold (Pennant, Upson, Muamba, Larsson) or loaned out (Bendtner, Djourou) several players over the past few seasons. The ferocity of the accusations aimed at Wenger from fans all over the country on Saturday evening before his follow-up statement was perhaps understandable: again, an emotional reaction in the heat of the moment as callers jump onto an already speeding bandwagon. However, the insinuation made by professional journalists more than 48 hours after the event is unsavoury in the extreme and totally uncalled for.
The situation is bad enough already, with one player facing a long road back to health and another vilified by many fans who, before Saturday, wouldn’t have known him from Adam.
Why do we feel a need to point the finger of blame at all and sundry, as if doing so will make everyone feel better and absolve the game and the fans of all their other sins?
Perhaps that is the only truly indefensible position in this sorry affair.
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