Wednesday 21 February 2018

Bad tackles have become legendary moments over the years, so let's not be hypocrites over injury to Seamus Coleman

Neil Taylor tackles Seamus Coleman in the incident in which the Irish defender broke his leg. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Neil Taylor tackles Seamus Coleman in the incident in which the Irish defender broke his leg. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Coleman challenges Raheem Sterling
Coleman challenges Diego Costa
James McClean tackles Poland’s Arkadiusz Milik
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Rousing, crunching, no-nonsense, ferocious, brilliant. Throw any of these words into Google alongside 'tackle' and 'James McClean' and the chances are you won't be short of results.

There'll be images, videos and several articles dedicated to the Ireland winger's 100pc commitment to challenges, which often leave his opponent in a crumpled heap.

And, hey, most of us think it's great.

There's the one against Alexis Sanchez during West Brom's victory last Saturday week when McClean's straight left leg clattered into the outside of Sanchez's right ankle as it was planted in the ground. It reduced Sanchez's effectiveness and cost McClean a yellow card, which, when you boil it down, was a pretty good deal for West Brom

McClean tackles Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez during West Brom’s recent victory
McClean tackles Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez during West Brom’s recent victory

Then there's Arkadiusz Milik, who didn't play for seven weeks after McClean's tackle on him during Ireland's draw against Poland in the Euro 2016 qualifier.

The argument put forward on the night was that McClean won the ball, which, it seems, makes anything that happens in the moments after perfectly acceptable.

James McClean tackles Poland’s Arkadiusz Milik
James McClean tackles Poland’s Arkadiusz Milik

Follow through to the point where your opponents leg bends in a C-shape while your pelvis is pushing their knee down at an angle towards the ground? Hey, most of us thought it was great.

"Make no mistake about it, if there's a chance there to go through someone, I'm going to take it," said McClean before the game and, true to his word, he did.

It doesn't suggest premeditation on his part or bring his tremendous character as a person into disrepute, but, had Milik been seriously injured in that tackle - and it was more by good luck than good judgment that he wasn't - those comments would take on a very different context than simply a player being 'up for it'. As it would have had Neil Taylor said the exact same thing last week.

When Milik posted a picture online of his swollen knee, the replies were mostly sympathetic from his own supporters, before a few Irish chimed in with "man up", "barely a bruise", "little scratch" and the obligatory reference questioning how long an international footballer would last playing hurling.

The accompanying articles lionising the tackle all referenced the Roy Keane-Marc Overmars moment in which Keane, legend has it, set the tone for one of Ireland's most famous victories with a 'let him know you're there' moment back in 2001.

Never mind that Overmars could have been injured or, in fact, that it inspired Louis van Gaal's team to batter us for an hour, with a combination of Shay Given, Dutch wastefulness and managerial idiosyncrasy having far more to do with the victory than any inspiration brought on by Keane's tackle.

Hey, we thought it was great.

That tackle was referenced more than once last week in relation to Gareth Bale and Keane added to that sense of impending physicality with his much-publicised comments about how to cope with the Welsh star.

"Don't give him space in behind because the boy can run. Tackle him. Hit him… fairly. Tackling is part of the bloody game."

McClean did exactly what his assistant manager wanted - fairly - when he challenged Bale early in the first-half, but in an environment where tackles are cheered louder than passes, it should hardly be a surprise or a cause for outrage when one of them goes wrong.

If Irish management, players and supporters are honest, most would have been happy enough to see Bale limp off the pitch.

They wouldn't want him broken up, but if he missed the rest of the game because of a tackle, fair or foul, wasn't too badly hurt and Ireland won, nobody would have put an asterisk beside the three points.

As Clinton Morrison put it in the highlights show while looking at the Shane Long and Glenn Whelan incidents: "In games like this you have to leave something on the opposition."

It shouldn't need saying, but that doesn't, in any way, justify or excuse Taylor's tackle which broke Seamus Coleman's leg, nor does the referee's performance which, for 45 minutes at least, the vast majority in the Aviva thought was wonderful in its leniency.

Had he booked Jon Walters for a dive, Long for catching Ashley Williams with a late shoulder to the jaw or Whelan for an elbow to Joe Allen's head, perhaps things might have been different.

The managers were, in all likelihood, aware that this was the same referee who was in charge when Luke Shaw broke his leg under a challenge from PSV's Hector Moreno who, like McClean, won the ball.

At the time, Keane described it as "a brilliant challenge" adding: "When players are travelling at great speed then (injuries) are always going to happen. I am surprised there's not more."

This column wrote more or less in agreement at the time because tackles can't be judged on their outcome and, against Wales, Ireland would have known that they had a referee who was known for - as that expression meaning 'precursor to violence' goes - 'allowing the game to flow'.

David Meyler's elbow straight after the interval was deemed a yellow card, as was Bale's incident with John O'Shea, which, to these eyes, couldn't be described as a tackle because Bale had planned for the ball to be there rather than O'Shea's leg.

Much like a player attempting an overhead kick and connecting with a defender rather than the ball, it is, however, very easy to accidentally do plenty of damage.

Which brings us to Taylor. Chris Coleman drew a baffling level of criticism for suggesting Taylor is "not that kind of player", but the reality is that almost every player who has ever made a tackle is 'that kind of player'.

They are the kind that can be overly aggressive, the kind who want to 'let an opponent know they're there' or the kind that can mistime a challenge and do unintended damage to an opponent. All of which takes in about 95pc of players.

In post-match comments that had enough hot air to make that irritating Aviva trumpet audible without the need for a PA system, Eamon Dunphy reckoned he'd never seen Seamus Coleman make a bad tackle.

This would be news to Raheem Sterling, who was whacked by Coleman in October, or Diego Costa a month later, both of which, with a little less luck, could've done serious damage because any sense of judgement in both tackles was absent.

But hey, Coleman is ours, and we don't really like Sterling or Costa, so plenty of us thought it was great.

Again, that's not to suggest karma is at work or to take anything away from Coleman's character or widespread reputation as an all-round decent bloke.

But the point is that Irish, and British, football thrives in an environment of brute force. It's telling that a player having a reputation for pulling out of tackles because they might get hurt is far worse than being known for making bad ones and hurting others. Being known as 'soft' is much worse than being 'dirty'.

Some tackles, like Taylor's, are worse than others, but we've lionised enough bad ones to put us on very shaky ground when it comes to moralising about reckless behaviour.

That, however, is unlikely to stop us.

Irish Independent

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