With our first Champions League game of the season against Braga on tomorrow there is only one question on everybody’s mind: how long will Abou Diaby be out for?
Unfortunately at this stage there has been no information from the club aside from confirmation that he will not be playing tomorrow night. Not that we couldn’t have worked that out for ourselves.
I must admit that in the Bolton match report, which pondered why Arsenal supporters cannot seem to enjoy watching their team play, I only very briefly touched on the tackle that injured Diaby, calling it “absolutely horrible”. Yet that description of the incident didn’t summarise how I actually felt about Paul Robinson’s tackle, how much I sympathised with Diaby for wanting to have a go at the Bolton defender despite his clearly injured state.
My reactions to the previous “big three” tackles of the year have been quite different: surprise and disappointment at Diaby’s first leg break, horror at the nature of Eduardo’s terrible break and above all, immense sadness for Aaron Ramsey.
This was different again: pure white anger at the stupidity of Robinson’s tackle and incredible frustration at the fact that Diaby, a player who has struggled with injuries that have undoubtedly resulted from his initial leg break, was so close to suffering another major injury setback. It was absolutely ridiculous.
Much has been said by independent writers about the shocking attitude of the English media towards tackles like these. Indeed, probably the best article I have ever read on the topic was posted yesterday on Arsenal blog 7am Kickoff. It featured no bias, no emotional sentiment, just facts and evidence as to why these sorts of tackles remain an accepted part of the game. I encourage you to read the entire article – it is absolutely superb stuff – but for those short on time I have posted one of the more powerful statements below:
But, the critique goes, you’re a Gooner and you just want to “pussify” the sport by removing all contact and/or rewarding the divers. Unfortunately, this critique is especially loud in the U.S. where “soccer” fans are afraid of being called “faggot” or having their sport perceived as being less manly than suiting up in armor and throwing a ball around in between commercial breaks where you can administer oxygen and Pringles to the starving linemen. The more exposure “soccer” gets in the USA, the louder the homophobia has become and the more the local fans have become outspoken against any perceived “pussification” in an attempt to combat the haters. But I ask you, what is more manly; facing your opponent in a fair fight or a two-footed lunge from behind that breaks your opponent’s leg?
I can relate so much to this particular statement because I come from Australia, a country that perceives the presence of physicality to be one of the most important components of contact sport. Australian Rules Football, Rugby Union and Rugby League have traditionally been the three most popular sports ahead of football (although gloriously, this has changed) and the biggest barrier preventing supporters of those sports crossing over to the world game is a perceived lack of physicality. They see players diving, rolling around feigning injury and think, not unfairly in my opinion, that it is not a man’s game.
But importantly, the presence of extreme physicality in Australian Rules Football, Rugby Union and Rugby League is, compared with football, extremely fair. The rules of these games ensure that players are ready for the contact, are only allowed to make contact in areas that are considered safe (avoiding head-high hits, no striking players off the ball etc) and perhaps most importantly, there are clear and severe consequences for players who do the wrong thing.
Unlike football, which ridiculously has no way to punish a tackle like Robinson’s if the referee misses it, a sport like Australian Rules Football has a clear system that allows referees retrospectively punish someone for any offences they miss during the game, with punishment lengths dependent on the seriousness of the offence and the player’s previous history for offences (see the video below). How the FA do not have a system like this will remain a mystery for someone who has grown up watching a sport that has always had this sort of system, even as far back as the 1980s, but in truth that’s not really the point of this post.
The point is that despite the extreme physicality of most Australian sports, players would not be called a “pussy” for reacting negatively to cheap shots like Robinson’s. For the most part these sports encourage physicality and the rules are designed to encouraged safe physicality, but over-stepping the mark is hugely looked down upon. Our culture is such that fair fights and physical contests are respected and cowardly assaults are looked down upon. If anything, the person responsible for tackles like Robinson would be considered the “pussy”.
For those that don’t know, I am not a big guy. I’m 5’7 and weight just over 70kg. But when I play football I absolutely love the physical stuff.
I love being able to slide in and win the ball. I love shoulder-to-shoulder challenges and block tackles that stop opponents in their track. I even love aerial challenges for the ball, no doubt a result of the Tim Cahill gene* that means all Australians have kangaroo-powered legs regardless of their size. I love all of this stuff and think it is an absolutely vital part of the game.
But I do not like studs-up challenges. I do not like cheap shots off the ball. I do not like tackles from behind, two-footed tackles or Zidane-style headbutts. I do not like players deliberately hitting the goalkeeper when they know they cannot get the ball, or players who deliberately use their elbows in aerial challenges. This is simply not a part of the game.
But until something is done by the FA to properly discourage players like Paul Robinson, Karl Henry, Ryan Shawcross and Martin Taylor from launching themselves into tackles like madmen they will remain an accepted part of the English game.
Anyway, that’s my rant done for the morning. More on Diaby’s injury later today, hopefully.
* Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a real gene
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