I have seen unsuccessful rough players, and I have seen failed cynical players. But a successful football psychopath is a unique case. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to follow one, and it amazes me that he is yet to be seriously punished for either his malicious tackles or his tongue which lashes out at both the opposition as well as referees with absolute contempt.
I am, of course, talking about Netherlands' premier holding midfielder and the captain of Bayern Munich, the highly unpopular Mark van Bommel.
In a country which plays beautiful, attacking football, van Bommel should be an outcast, an ugly duckling in a group of swans. Yet, over the years, due to the insurance he provides to the team through his role, he has become indispensable to the Oranje. However, he still sticks out like a sore thumb, not for his role (the unglamorous defensive midfielder), but for his gameplay, or rather, for his gamesmanship.
As someone who almost always seems to go into tackles with an intent to causing serious harm, he escapes almost every time. Any other player might get sent off several times over for fouls for which he receives just warnings. It's utterly inexplicable how this comes to pass.
What does van Bommel tell the referee before the official can decide on a booking? Does he sweet-talk his way out of the situation? His facial expressions certainly seem to suggest nothing of the sort. Besides, I have rarely seen van Bommel mouth anything other than obscenities.
Perhaps he just threatens the referee with serious consequences? Given that the referee experiences the players' absolutely unrepentant and violent behaviours first hand, it might well be scary enough to be believable. Maybe he does it in the tunnel before the teams come out. We, as fans, will never know.
I have just come off after watching the Uruguay-Netherlands semi-final. As a neutral fan, van Bommel's tackles and challenges again forced me to think and write about the issue of malicious and cynical tackling.
Just before the first goal was scored, van Bommel went in, studs up, with no intent to win the ball, on an Uruguayan player. The player went down, in full sight of the referee, and yet the play continued, with no foul given.
Meanwhile, van Bommel just stroked a pass into the feet of Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who absolutely rammed it into the goal. Rarely is salt rubbed into an injury in so emphatic a fashion.
In the second half, in a rare Uruguayan counter-attack, van Bommel bundled the player carrying the ball from behind and then proceeded to apparently kick out at him. Since the Holland players were about to be outnumbered, this foul should have been classified as cynical and the offender carded, as van Bommel had committed several intentional fouls earlier as well.
Yet, the playacting of holding the stomach and stumbling to feet ensued from the Dutch player, and he was assisted to the touchline. Oh, and he had a few choice words for the Uruguayan player in the interim.
I was utterly amazed at the levels of indiscretion which van Bommel is allowed to undertake.
Miraslov Klose of Germany had been sent off against Serbia for two fouls which in total would not come up to the level of malicious intent which van Bommel packs into one of his tackles.
While I admit each referee has different levels of understanding, it's fair to say that there should be a maximum level of allowance in the strength of a foul.
While there is talk of video replays being introduced to assist in goals or offside calls, I think referrals on the lines of tennis should be introduced for all sorts of situations, including fouls and diving.In such cases, should the referral be correctly called by a team, either the foul will be proved and the offender will be awarded a yellow card. Or in the case of diving, the player who is simulating will be carded for cheating.
While almost all opponents of video-replays and referrals will argue that this will spoil the flow of the game, my argument is that persistent fouling or simulation disrupts the game anyways.
Why not use such an occasion to catch hold of the offender and punish him for something which football has no room for?
It will only help the game in the long run by reducing both intentional fouling as well as simulation, two evils which FIFA and UEFA are fighting to remove from the game.
It is to van Bommel's credit that he has played so long at such a high level, yet he is no idol for upcoming players or youngsters aspiring to play football.
There is a very fine line between being a feisty footballer and being a malicious one, and van Bommel, does not even know if such a line exists. He is that far removed from being a fair player.
It will indeed be a momentous day for football when he retires, and while I wish no ill luck to the Dutch, I perhaps share my feelings with a lot of fans when I say that I don't wish to see van Bommel holding the World Cup trophy aloft on the 11th of June.
Perhaps justice might happen if the Dutch win the next World Cup, especially after he has retired from international football and refuses a recall to the national team, if offered one.
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