Ah the two-footed lunge. The much-loved staple of Inspector Clouseau has become the talking point of British football.
Here's righteous Stevie G mistaking an Evertonian for a big puddle
Messrs Hansen, Dixon, and another chavvily-togged appearance by Shearer saw them berate the referees in this country for their lack of consistency. Clearly Glen Johnson’s Scholesian torpedo challenge was at least the equal of the Kompany effort at the weekend and Lee Mason did nowt.
Neither of them was as bad as Lampard’s effort the other week, but at least English football’s next couch potato (Christine will be training him up as we speak) had the good grace to admit that he thought he was off.
So what to do?
I’ve looked through the FIFA Laws of the Game thingammy I can’t find owt that says a two-footed tackle is a definite red card. Mind you, I can’t say I’ve read it in detail as, oh I dunno, I had some pins to stick in my eyes and that seemed preferable.
There’s lot of stuff on violent conduct but of course this is all down to interpretation and FIFA directives don’t help the officials whatsoever. What’s the difference between ‘careless’ and ‘reckless’? Surely it depends on the player, and I’m sure Mario Balotelli couldn’t distinguish between the two.
How many players and managers have insisted that there was no evil intent behind a challenge, and berated the poor old man in black for his inability to see into the mind of the guilty party. It seems that officials might have to be sent on a course in Criminal Psychology in order to enhance their credentials.
In the wet and slippery months, and I remember them well in the early days of my marriage, there was a delight in the sudden availability of the sliding tackle: the aniticipation of setting off into a challenge some thirty feet away from their nippy scuzzbucket winger; the satisfaction at the lack of friction as you ploughed new furrows into the cloddy earth; and the pleasure as you took out one or more of the following – the ball, the man, or the pitchside parents who were hollering like mad dogs from under their McClarenesque brollies.
Top slidey work
The criterion of success or failure in a tackle used to be ‘did you get the ball?’ That was it. (In both Kompany and Johnson’s cases, they did just that, very cleanly.) Wise creative types would leap nimbly out of the way of the speeding sideboard that was travelling towards him rather than take the hit (and again, Nani and Lescott did just that.)
These days, the balance has been lopsided in the favour of the attacker. Too many of them exploit this and spend way too much time behaving less like footballers and more like tumbleweed, but then FIFA shouldn’t be indulging the thespian fraternity of modern footy either and post-match bans based on desperate simulation should be just as punitive as any other censure.
But just as you can no longer get your hands on a decent plumber or chippy these days without having a nodding acquaintance with the Cyrillic alphabet (so I’m told by the odd racist barfly), it seems this country and the sport as a whole has lost the art of tackling. And I don’t mean clogging.
You look at the United team that crumbled at the Sports Direct Arena (that phrase rolls off the tongue like peanut butter) and not one of their midfield would know a block or tackle if dropped down from a pulley system and smacked ‘em on the head. Michael Carrick is supposed to be a holding midfielder but the only thing I saw him holding was Demba Ba’s coat while the centre-forward waltzed off towards the increasingly creaky Rio Ferdinand.
Getting the ball back off an opponent is one of the most important parts of football. Just ask Barcelona’s opponents. It’s no coincidence that Spurs’s fine season has coincided with the arrival of Scott Parker, one of the few players in the country who knows how to do it.
Give it a couple of years and I can see Scotty running workshops in the ancient art in some backwoods studio alongside some woodturners and whittlers.
But if we really want consistency from our refs then maybe they should just make it a clear-cut rule. Two feet off the ground means a red card. No questions asked. Forget the notional difference between careless and reckless.
That might seem bloody stupid – and it’s no more dumb than the laws around players whipping off shirts in celebration - but if we leave it to some sort of interpretation then we’re going to have more schoolboy spats between fellow professionals as happened in the tunnel at the Etihad.
Clearly Mancini’s Mummy didn’t give him what he wanted for Christmas. Blaming Rooney for Kompany’s dismissal was blinking feeble, and his needle about Johnson’s challenge had as much to do with the fact that his team were poor as the not unreasonable sense of injustice.
Indeed Citeh have ground to a bit of a halt just now and when Silva and Yaya aren’t about they lack both drive and invention. They worked bloody hard against Liverpool in the second half but the English contingent of Johnson, Barry and Milner are just plucky little plodders when compared with the Spaniard. It just reminds you that getting your hopes up for Euro 2012 is pure folly.
And of course this all means that Tottenham loom ever larger in the wing-mirrors. Adebayor’s finishing still has the cold calmness of a Charlie Sheen tweet, but you’ve got to fancy their chances if the Mancs keep on having to chug about Europe for the rest of the season in the hope of winning European football’s version of the Kinder Egg.
Manu indicates how far he missed with his latest effort
If they can just get their defenders to not challenge for the ball in the horizontal, it might just happen...