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Murphy takes a kicking but he's only telling it as it is

M y instructions from the manager were very clear. The first time the opposing goalkeeper had to deal with a ball into the penalty area, he was to be fouled. I was to clobber him in the hope of causing a moment's hesitation the next time round. I wasn't to necessarily injure him, but he was to be fouled nonetheless.

It never occurred to me to question the difference and I did as I was told. Though I was no more than ten or 11 years old at the time, I went on to receive similar instructions right up to the year I retired.

Danny Murphy has caused quite a stir by publicly expressing a few points which are very easy to understand and which also happen to be true. Despite the spin some have put on what he might have meant, what he actually said made perfect sense.

He simply said there are teams who try to stop others playing (nothing wrong with that), some managers are very good at motivating their players prior to games (which some are), and some players "are so pumped up there is inevitably going to be problems" (which is true).

Some teams are technically less gifted so will tend to be more physical (again, true enough). He also said that every manager is in a position to demand certain standards from their players and deal swiftly with those who fail to meet them. After all, they're the ones in charge.

Not for the first time, it seems many people have missed the point of what was actually said. Murphy never called anyone dirty and never explicitly accused any manager of doing anything wrong. Listening to the responses of some Premier League managers on Friday, though, you would swear the opposite was the case.

Never missing an opportunity to speak out, Sam Allardyce -- manager of one of the three clubs Murphy named as examples -- defended himself by saying "we are physical when we need to be, but we don't play dirty and we never have done". That comment in no way contradicts what Murphy said, and Allardyce went on to goad Murphy into a public apology "if he was man enough". Best of all was his remark that "people like Danny Murphy are giving a perception that's not true and I hate perception".

Allardyce wasn't alone in expressing his indignation at what he felt were defamatory remarks. Mick McCarthy wondered how a player he had never worked with could comment on the content of his team-talks, and Stoke manager Tony Pulis read out a statement in defence of his club and their style of play.

It is not wise to come out and speak publicly about intentions to foul opponents, but there are several cases in many games where managers are pleased to see their players make 'intelligent fouls'. You often hear commentators use phrase like 'intelligent bookings', and you can bet there are far more explicit phrases mentioned within the dressing room to describe similar instances.

Whatever way it is articulated, fouling an opponent pays. It always has. Nobody feels comfortable to say it in public for fear of a backlash. Actually, given the response to Murphy's relatively harmless remarks, you would have to say they are right not to do so.

The clubs Murphy mentioned -- Wolves, Stoke and Blackburn -- have reputations for being overly physical and technically inferior to

the majority of teams they come up against. Whether that is the case or not, it is how they are perceived. When teams come to play in their grounds, it will be in their minds to some degree, and it may adversely affect how they perform as a result. There is no need for the managers involved to be apologetic, but I fail to see why they should be so sensitive on the issue either.

Putting to one side our relative technical abilities, most teams I played against at the Den arrived with an expectation of a physical encounter. Almost every supporter we had demanded it, and we obliged more often than not. It didn't matter to us how we were viewed, we genuinely just didn't care. Some days we outplayed teams, other days we out-ran them. If the situation ever arose though, we would do our best to outfight them.

Tackling is part of the game, and so too is fouling, which means injuries are an unavoidable consequence. Intimidating your opponent can work, which is why fans and some teams set out to do so. I'm sure many will object to such a view, but not one person who ever played professionally can say it is untrue. Even a man like Sam Allardyce knows that much.


Sunday Independent