By Stephen Adams
The Premier League has got off to a leg-cracking start, but is it right to ask the hard-men to go easy in the tackle?
Big tackles have been hitting the news of late, and I'm not referring to the kind for which Dion Dublin was known for. We're only in October of the Premier League season and already the 'Fibula through the sock' look is catching on faster than tattooed forearms and the hand-stitched name of your WAG in the seat of the Bentley.
Thankfully, horror injuries don't happen every week, but when they do occur it's a reminder of how short a footballer's career can be. Memories of David Busst's leg splintering beyond recognition at Old Trafford, Alan Smith's collapsing underneath him at Anfield, or Aaron Ramsey's foot being taken clean off his leg remain difficult to stomach when the youtube links are sent around and watched with a wince through a hand over the eyes.
Both Busst and Smith were victims of cruel luck, the former having to retire immediately, and Smith struggling to regain the form that earned him 19 England caps. Arsenal will be hoping that Ramsey isn't similarly affected, especially as he was beginning to settle into their style of play and give fans hope that, alongside Jack Wilshire, he could fill the void left when Fabregas inevitably heads home next summer.
When cruel luck isn't a factor, a dirty great lunge from an inferior opponent is usually to blame for a trip to the Orthopaedic ward. Whilst even the most partisan crowds don't want to see legs being snapped like Christmas crackers, big tackles are a revered part of the English game that we can't hunt to extinction. For all of Wenger's complaining about other teams daring to disrupt his teenagers whilst they complete a 32-pass move into the goal (he may have grounds to grumble after Eduardo and Ramsey) - players tearing into 50/50's, or a burly centre-back 'putting in a reducer' are parts of the game, and tactics to be employed by those looking to break up opposition play.
Danny Murphy has spoken this week of teams such as Stoke, Blackburn and Wolves being overly aggressive and employing disruptive tactics. True, they are garnering reputations for getting stuck in, but it also means they are incredibly hard to play against and this has been a big factor in them securing their top-flight status. For all the attractive football they played under Mowbray and now Di Matteo, West Brom's yo-yo status may have something to do with a soft underbelly for when the going gets tough. The top teams in the division have no divine right to knock it about as they like and expect the lesser teams to gratefully suffer a stuffing, and numerous 'upsets' prove that there is merit in getting amongst these teams to see if they have a plan B.
There will always be a few bad eggs, the pantomime villains if you will. Players such as Vinnie Jones, Julian Dicks and Neil Ruddock were fan favourites for their frequent skullduggery, but they could play a bit too. There were several great moments when the initial influx of foreign talent such as Zola, Ginola and Klinsmann were up-ended by members of the old school and given an introduction to the Premier League school of hard knocks, it all added to the entertainment. Alas, these days in the era of super slow-mo HD replays in 3D, even the slightest shirt-pull can be looked at out of context and compared to the execution of Kennedy.
Nigel De Jong and Karl Henry are the latest to have the stamp of 'dirty player' applied to their foreheads. One does have to admire the way in which De Jong chose the World Cup Final to ensure this message reached a global audience, but perhaps the public flogging he's currently receiving is his homeland will temper the gusto with which he launches into challenges - maybe he could even find time to visit Ben Arfa in hospital during the international break he's not been invited to? Henry is yet to actually snap a leg (blaming him for the Zamora tackle would be harsh), but he can't have been far off during his kamikaze flight into the shinbone of Jordi Gomez. The Wigan man was exceptionally lucky to escape serious injury, walk it off big guy.
We don't want a non-contact sport, tackles should be hard but fair. Now, if only we could find a way to stop goalkeepers falling over whenever anyone enters the 6-yard box for a corner - it goes both ways.