Sunday, 7 March 2010
'Not that type of player': How football's limp excuses wear thin
Ryan Shawcross was an unassuming, quiet presence on the England bench at Wembley in midweek, a far cry from his tumultuous last appearance.
Two images defined last weekend’s football action: a tearful Shawcross leaving the Britannia Stadium pitch after being sent off for his tackle on Aaron Ramsey, whose crumpled leg was the match’s other enduring sight.
Shawcross’s manager at Stoke City, Tony Pulis, was quick to defend his player: “Ryan is not that type of lad.” This feeling was then recycled as post-match interviews mulled over the incident, and it became evident that we would hear the same old excuses.
It almost goes without saying that Shawcross didn’t mean to break Ramsey’s leg. What grates, however, is the repetitive, inane nature of the defence offered, and how, instead of taking responsibility for their reckless actions, the perpetrators are portrayed as victims.
Ramsey’s Arsenal team-mate Eduardo fell victim to a similar injury in February 2008, when a tackle from Birmingham City defender Martin Taylor left his ankle hanging by a thread.
Like Ramsey, Eduardo’s career was in jeopardy, and also like the Ramsey case, the offending player’s manager used the same limp excuse, as Alex McLeish said: "Martin's not a dirty player."
This hollow sentiment is uttered too often, and after Eduardo’s injury, Wenger said: "The worst thing you hear after is that 'he's not the kind of guy who usually does that', but you need to only kill one person one time - it's enough."
Ramsey’s injury was the third such incident in less than four years, after Abou Diaby suffered serious damage to his ankle after a terrible challenge from Sunderland’s Dan Smith. Again, the excuse offered by the offending side was feeble, as then Sunderland caretaker manager Kevin Ball said: "Dan Smith is by no means a dirty player.”
If Shawcross had caused an injury by crashing his car, Pulis is unlikely to have offered the defence: “He’s not that type of driver.” Nobody involved in a car crash purposefully drives into another vehicle, but it is to be expected when the driver responsible has their licence suspended.
In this case, then, why are footballers so reluctant to accept responsibility when they are involved in such serious incidents?
Shawcross may not have been trying to shatter Ramsey’s leg, but the horrific collision was the result of a team’s bloody-minded determination to physically unsettle technically superior opponents.
And the stomach-churning image of Ramsey’s decimated shin is not only the result of one team’s efforts to ‘get in the faces’ of the Arsenal players, but a product of a wider culture of thuggery.
As Wenger notes, these are not merely unfortunate coincidences: "It goes with the idea that to stop Arsenal you have to kick Arsenal and that kind of thing [Eduardo’s injury] was waiting to happen.”
When pundits discuss ways of beating Arsenal, they invariably mention how the Gunners “don’t like it up ‘em”, and that teams will succeed if they “get in their faces” and “stop them playing”.
This message then seeps into Premier League changing rooms, where the likes of Pulis and McLeish urge their sides to rise to the challenge in an unswervingly robust manner.
And, deliberately or not, this physical approach eventually culminates in ugly scenes such as those at the Britannia Stadium.
Published in Leeds Student on Friday, March 5, 2010
Maybe Dara O'Briain is a regular reader: