Is the Premier League Sliding Tackle an Endangered Species?

Iain StrachanCorrespondent IOctober 5, 2010

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Hatem Ben Arfa of Newcastle takes gas as he goes off with an injured ankle during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Newcastle United at the City of Manchester Stadium on October 3, 2010 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The early Premier League season has seen a number of severe injuries caused by aggressive or careless tackling.

Wolves captain Karl Henry broke the leg of Fulham’s Bobby Zamora in September before receiving a straight red card for an extraordinarily reckless tackle on Wigan’s Jordi Gomez on Saturday. Fortunately Gomez was unharmed.

Manchester City’s Nigel De Jong may have ended Hatem Ben Arfa’s promising season for Newcastle with a sliding tackle on Sunday, while Wolves’ Adlene Guedioura is out for up to six months after being injured by Aston Villa’s Steve Sidwell. In the Carling Cup, Fulham‘s Moussa Dembele was lucky to avoid serious injury after a needless tackle by Stoke City‘s Andy Wilkinson.

In recent seasons, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo da Silva have been the unfortunate victims of career-threatening injuries caused by tackles.

Increased athleticism has played a part in the current situation. Players are, generally speaking, fitter, faster, stronger, and consequently hit each other harder than ever before.

Serious accidents have always been an unfortunate consequence of contact sport, but what appears to be a rise in the frequency and severity of such incidents in English football has led to calls that the sliding tackle be abolished from the game.  

Very few are suggesting that tackling itself be outlawed, but the sliding or lunging tackle is increasingly endangered.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is considered the standard-bearer in the crusade to minimize contact and hence reduce the incident of injury. Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola have echoed his calls for greater protection to be given to the game’s artists. They have a vested interest in protecting the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

It is convenient for Mourinho and Wenger to be calling for less physicality at this time. Wenger’s Arsenal, once an imposing team boasting a notoriously poor disciplinary record, have become habitually fragile and were out-muscled at Stamford Bridge on Sunday as Chelsea bullied their London rivals into Premier League submission yet again.

Mourinho, demanding greater protection for his new effete Real Madrid charges, can claim some of the credit for Chelsea's latest win over Arsenal after laying the foundations for the West London club's irresistible combination of power and precision during his time in England. Last year, his physical, aggressive yet skillful Internazionale team dumped Barcelona out of the Champions League en route to claiming the trophy.

When it has suited, overt physicality has always been within the playbook of great managers and great clubs. After all, the physical contest on a football field and the potential for a battle between contrasting playing styles is an inherent part of the rich tapestry of association football.

Physicality and the contest within the game must not be done away, lest we risk robbing the sport of an intrinsic part of its appeal. However, if sliding or lunging tackling, for so long an accepted method of contesting the ball, is now leading to an unacceptably high incidence of serious injury, action must be taken.

Some have mooted banning any form of challenge in which the tackling player goes to ground. That seems excessive.

The compromise solution would be to specifically outlaw a player from lunging or sliding into a tackle when directly in front of their opponent (or behind of course). From the side, a tackling player should only be permitted to go to ground if they bend or hinge the leading leg and hook the ball out the opponent’s possession.

The tackling player would also need to have one leg tucked underneath their body or at least away from the subject of the tackle to provide a measure of control in the sequence and prevent the kind of unstoppable lunge that deservedly earned Henry red on Saturday.

This would allow fans to enjoy the thrill of a chase and appreciate the commitment of a well-timed challenge, while minimizing the risk to those involved as much as possible.