After the recent rash of bad tackles that has gained so many headlines and sold so many newspapers, many people have said "it's part of the game" or "it's a necessary evil". In the past when this has happened, I would be inclined to agree with these opinions mostly. However, some of the more recent tackles have truly shocked me and many others.
Nigel De Jong is a perfect example. Against Chelsea, his timing of the tackle was perfect for all 90 minutes. Against Newcastle, he saw the potentially most dangerous opponent and decided to make sure he knew he was in a game. He came in far too fast in the end, and Ben Arfa unsurprisingly could not avoid a double leg break. Some have defended De Jong and claimed it to be a "racing incident". This has me worried.
Most serious injuries are a result of "racing incidents", granted. But this was anything but. If you needed any more proof of this aberration, one of the men expected to defend De Jong actually dropped him for the offence: Holland's World Cup final manager Bert van Marwijk.
What particularly worries me about this incident is that the response has been rather muted. Until Danny Murphy spoke up.
However, he responded to the problem as a much more widespread problem than just a few tackles. Murphy explained that, in his experience, managers had a large amount of control over how hard and reckless their teams tackles were: "Your manager dictates what the players do, and how you behave."
Referencing his old boss Roy Hodgson, he explained that he did not take well to his players talking back to the referee and did not accept reckless tackles. This is why they always won the fair play award in his eyes.
Then he nailed the problem on the head: "You get managers sending their teams out to stop other teams playing, which is happening more and more—the Stokes, Blackburns, Wolves. They can say it's effective and they have got to win games, but the fact is managers are sending players out so pumped up that there is inevitably going to be problems."
Stopping other teams playing is one thing, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, some managers think that means telling their players to "get stuck in" or what have you.
Did Chelsea get stuck in at the Camp Nou when they ground out a famous 0-0 draw? No, they defended with superb timing and technique.
Tackling is an art, like any other aspect of football. Players do not have a right to slide tackle at any speed or angle they like as long as they touch the ball, even if it is indeed a vague touch. Karl Henry, in recent times, seems to think that he does, however.
In all fairness, in his case there is little evidence that Mick McCarthy is largely to blame. After his sending off against Wigan, Wolves conducted themselves almost perfectly. But the tackle he was sent off for has enough aggression in it for all 11 players put together for the 90 minutes.
McCarthy admitted later that he could not disagree with the red card, but lamented the press reaction to his tackling beforehand. I can understand his frustration, but if Henry is the standout player at Wolves as being far too tough and reckless, then why was he allowed to continue to do so?
Newcastle fans will tell you it was because he was allowed to by the referees. I will agree to an extent and add that Mick McCarthy surely had opportunity to say to him "Let's see some timing in those tackles in the future, Karl." He may well have done, but on evidence, either Karl Henry didn't listen or McCarthy didn't say anything because he was gaining a tactical advantage out of him.