As a young boy, two prevailing facts were drummed into my very core: how violent Jackie Chan movies were, and that Johan Cruyff epitomized the way football should be played—or “Total Football” as it was coined.
On Saturday at the Britannia Stadium, there was plenty of Chan, but no Cruyff for the paying patrons. If a Hollywood movie production company had written the story, it would have carried an instant adult rating, and may have even needed to be cut to appease some film buffs.
It was painful stuff to watch. Most tackles carried a health warning, and were greeted by pained expressions from the on looking supporters.
To anybody who did not have to tolerate the Chan-esque football on display during Stoke City vs. Everton, the official stats do not back up my argument. Only one yellow card was brandished—to Stoke’s Amir Begovic for remonstrating with referee Mark Halsey—and the 24 fouls committed were on a par with gentile Manchester United vs. Sunderland encounter.
But dig a little deeper, or watch the highlights on TV, to witness UFC intertwining itself with football.
Everton’s Marouane Fellaini’s vicious headbutt, followed by a forearm smash on Ryan Shawcross, was the central point of a game of football that will go down in the X-Files section of Premier League history.
Whilst that was the major flashpoint, the game had a horrible undercurrent of nastiness right from the first whistle. Players were constantly pulling shirts and arms at set-pieces, or raking ankles when they had an opposing player in their sights. Nobody covered themselves in glory on Saturday, with both sides serving up a brand of antagonistic football that the supporters paid in excess of £30 to endure.
However, the entire bloodthirsty atmosphere should not be used as attempt to cloud over what Fellaini did, and his apology will not sway the FA when they announce the size of his ban. In fact, credit should go to Shawcross, who took the impact of headbutt before getting on with the game, when far more theatrical footballers like Gareth Bale or Luis Suarez would probably still be prone on the Britannia Stadium pitch this morning.
The point I am making is that these ugly games should really be a thing of the past. Everybody knew the match would not be pleasing on the eye, but football has evolved since the on-pitch hack-and-slash era of the 1970s. Both managers and all 15 players—particularly Fellaini—should be uncomfortable with the football they produced.
Both management teams need to do some soul-searching in their post-match analysis, before making the correct decision to add a sprinkle Cruyff-style football into their repertoire—because Saturday’s offering would have made even Chan wince.
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