El Centrocampista

WHEN IS A TACKLE NOT A TACKLE? – Football and the steady decline to non-contact

The sending-off of Vincent Kompany during the recent Manchester derby again reopened the debate as to whether football is slowly turning into a sport where contact with an opponent is treated with distain.

Despite winning the ball with a committed but perfectly timed tackle, the Belgian international was sent to the stands by referee Chris Foy who deemed the tackle to be carried out with ‘excessive force’.

It was a decision that not only looked like ending the game as a contest, but is one that has been met with concern by supporters, managers, and former referees throughout not only England, but crucially, Europe too.

He may have been lambasted from far and wide this week but it is hard not to have some deal of sympathy towards Chris Foy who was trusted of controlling an already highly charged FA Cup encounter between bitter rivals who also sat first and second in the Barclays Premier League.

And until the implementation of video technology becomes standard, human error is always going to be something that is nearly unavoidable.

Perhaps though the most worrying event followed two days later when the Football Association failed to overturn the red card, a clear indication if any that the art of tackling appears to be under threat.

After sitting down and reviewing the incident from such a wide array of angles that referees could only dream of, they decided that the tackle wasn’t in line with their strict ruling on the game.

Those yearning for a return to the days where fully grown men could enter a football pitch knowing that they were to put going to put life and limb on the line, could well be waiting for a very long time.

Noted for its intensity, passion, desire, and competitiveness, the fear must be that the very thing that drives so many people to tune into the English Premier League is going to be banished.

And while observers from outside Spain may look condescendingly down to La Liga with the stereotypical view that simulation and play acting is rife – and that full bodied challenges are less so – it does appear to be the case that Europe is beginning to follow suit.

With FIFA refereeing directives seemingly becoming stricter by ever meeting, adaptation is something that many Premier League clubs are going to have to do.

But the problem for the elite clubs hoping to break the tight stranglehold that Barcelona is currently enjoying on the rest of European football is that the Spanish champions have had many a year perfecting the trade.

In fact such was the comprehensive way that Manchester United were dispatched by Pep Guardiola’s men in last season’s Champions League final, Sir Matt Busby was quick to surface and observe that FIFA’s refereeing orders have turned the game into a non-contact sport.

There is little doubt that Manchester United would have been instructed to hassle and harry Barcelona in an desperate, yet equally understandable, attempt to halt the slick tiki-taka style which is used so effectively by the Catalan club.

Instead, not only did Barcelona ensure that United didn’t were chasing shadows for a large proportion of the game, but when they did get anywhere near to the Barcelona men they were often punished for trivial offences.

But despite accusations by Mourinho and the alike, it would be wholly unfair to suggest that Barcelona are abunch of cheats; instead they ever so cleverly bend the rules and regulations so that they are stacked in their favour.

There may be little doubt that the systematic nature in which there player’s take turns to surround the referee is an annoyance, neither should there be little doubt that when serial offenders Alves and Busquets take a tumble to the ground it is infuriating, but the fact is that such is the quick way in which they move the ball around means that any clumsy or fractionally mistimed foot by an opponent naturally results in a foul.

Perhaps it is this then, combined with extra officious refereeing, that has led to La Liga averaging 5.2 per game over the past eight years compared to 3.1 in the Premier League which although at present may be  the lowest average in Europe’s top leagues it is still a figure that is gradually on the climb.

It could well be that if the Football Association start to pressure their referees to be on the lookout for anything that borders on any tackle that is ‘over committed’ then in a few years time it could well match La Liga’s penchant for yellow.

And where previously doubts may have been raised as to whether Spanish footballers could stand up to the vigour and physicality of the Premiership, the decision to award free kicks for minimal contact means that the perceived adaptation period could become much less – David Silva and Juan Mata being prime examples.

It will certainly be interesting to see how lenient the refereeing is when Stoke meet Valencia next month. Whether FIFA directions will allow Stoke to take advantage of their increased size, stature, and power will be something that will surely shape which way the tie goes.

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