After a few weeks of constant criticism coming from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce has joined forces with Stoke's Tony Pulis to accuse Wenger of trying to influence the referees and overstepping his bounds with his recent comments on violent tackles.
After Wenger called for all coaches to be "on the same wavelength" with bad tackling, Allardyce and Pulis hit back, claiming that the Arsenal manager was "out of order" when he likened some of the challenges in the Stoke-Aston Villa match to rugby.
However, Wenger has responded back reasonably, suggesting that neither manager should take his comments personally because he "do[es] not criticise them," adding that, "most of the time it was down to the fact I criticised violent football, and I am ready to do that at any price, to come out on that because I don't accept it."
What Wenger calls for is stopping deliberately violent play that does not seek to play the ball, but rather the man.
In highlighting this, Wenger points to the fact that Bolton's Paul Robinson was not punished for a possible leg-breaking tackle on About Diaby, while he was given a fine and a touchline ban for letting out his emotions and using abusive language with the fourth official.
Showing again why he is such a respected manager, Wenger understood that what he did at the Stadium of Light was wrong and he accepted the punishment that was meted out, saying, "I told you I was wrong in our last away game at Sunderland and I accept the punishment."
This exchange between the three managers highlights the difference in opinion between them: Two of the managers are known for fielding robust sides that make leg-crunching tackles against opponents, while the other is well-known for fielding technically skilled, but physically deficient sides.
But this dialogue has devolved because Allardyce and Pulis are focusing on Wenger's reaction to the issue rather than the issue itself. Instead of debating the merits of violent tackles versus protecting the players, as so often is the case especially when it's a British manager against Wenger, it's become an issue of the dainty foreigner against honest, robust English lads.
But the real issue lies in what Wenger is trying to say.
He is not against robust challenges, or well-timed sliding tackles. In fact, he has on occasion, recalled the beauty of such well-executed tackles.
What he is against are tackles that are aimed at the player rather than the ball, with some intent to hurt, injure, or intimidate the player. That goes beyond the proper laws of the game and should be duly punished by a referee.
But it seems that because Arsenal play in England, and English teams have a storied history of players getting stuck in and sacrificing their bodies, with the odd stray arm or leg swinging about, that these otherwise dangerous tackles are not seen as deadly.
It's just a case of British players being bigger, stronger, and at times, faster than their opponents, and if they want to exert their physical dominance, then so be it.
But put any of those tackles off the pitch and they turn into assault and could cause bodily harm. If citizens and regular people are afforded the respect and protection of the law from such malicious attacks, why is it considered fine for less skilled players to go in clumsily against their more skilled counterparts with no real intent to play the ball, and all they want to do is assert their reputation, intimidate their opponents, or just want to hurt them?
Football is a physical sport. It's a contact sport. But it's also one where players play the ball, not the player.
When players start to kick and hit other players, that's when lines are crossed, and when football ceases to be just football. That's when it descends into the realm of American football, rugby, or martial arts.
Wenger is not asking for special treatment, but rather, that his players be treated with the same respect as ordinary citizens, that they be protected from assault and malicious play.
If a player goes in and wins a ball fairly, it should be fair game. But if a player goes in aiming for ankles, shines, and knees, they should be warned or sent straight out of the game.
Knowing that, who could logically disagree with Wenger on his stance to stamp out the violence from the beautiful game?
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