Good morning everyone.
After Liverpool’s Harvey Elliot was injured over the weekend, there has been a growing focus on how players can play tackles in the Premier League that we thought were a thing of the past.
For example, the following is an all-time classic of the ‘If that were Granit Xhaka …’ genre:
I don’t care who it is How is that not a free kick and a yellow card has to be sorted pic.twitter.com/NsvOtbABwP
– Matty Alley (@AlleyMatty) September 13, 2021
I have no doubt that if it’s Xhaka, at least it’s a yellow. So James Tarkowski wasn’t booked, and the challenge didn’t even warrant a booking after … * checking notes * … Referee Martin Atkinson. Yes, the same Martin Atkinson who sent Xhaka off against Man City a few weeks ago.
The background to this is that PGMOL boss Mike Riley instructed the referees to “let it flow” so that the game would be smoother and less disturbed by overzealous administration. There’s no written regulation or anything, just an edict that nobody really knows the details of. Just two weeks ago, Henry Winter wrote in the Times:
Two weekends into the Premier League season and few expected Mike Riley, chief referee and so far an advocate of pedantic micro-direction of games, to be one of the stars of the show. Captain Mainwaring has become Captain Marvel.
There are many reasons for Riley’s belated but welcome switch to the “Let it flow” credo, not least the successful Euro 2020, where advantages were played, simulations were ignored and referees were applauded. Even before the European Championship, the reputation among fans, managers, players and broadcasters in England for more advantages and less interference was deafening. Riley listened.
However, just days before this article was published, Liverpool played Burnley at Anfield Road, defeating Sean Dyche’s side 2-0 and afterwards Jurgen Klopp expressed concern about the severity of some tackles and the referee’s failure, they say:
“I’m not 100 percent sure if we are going in the right direction with these decisions when we go back 10-15 years. It’s too dangerous – it’s just hard. The rules are as they are, but these situations cannot be defended.
“There is a message that says ‘Let the game flow,’ but nobody really knows what that means, so I’m not sure.
“We have to keep protecting the players.”
A few weeks later, and this glorification of Mike Riley – of all things – looks even worse than it did then. An 18 year old player is going to miss a large part of the season and after such a terrible injury can suffer complications over the course of his career. Richarlison was fortunate enough not to be seriously injured by Tarkovsky on Monday night and was taken out from behind at the start of the game by Josh Brownhill, who remarkably – or possibly by not being Granit Xhaka – escaped a warning. Attacking from behind was banned years ago, so why in the world is it now allowed without the proper censorship? A nebulous concept like “Let it flow” is not enough.
We all want the game to be played at high speed with no stop / start interruptions, but there is a huge difference between trying to get a bit more advantage and essentially ignoring challenges that football has tried for years to be eliminated from the game. It’s an invitation for those so inclined to cross lines that shouldn’t be crossed, especially in the modern game.
Ken Early wrote well about it for the Irish Times (£) and spoke on Monday on the Second Captains podcast tackling it with scissors – and for good reason. You don’t have the tools to deal with the increase in dangerous game play. The days of the “tough man” are long gone (although the merging of a tough but fair player and a coward who depresses people has always irritated me).
English football has long had a problem with the physical aspect of the game. The passion, the walking around, the hard work and the crunch has always been at the center. Suspicions of things like tech, skill, and even professionalism in the way you live your life on and off the pitch never entirely go away. There is still a feeling that they are different, strange and not to be trusted. It is for this reason that he is referred to as a diver in a single fall by Robert Pires, but an English player like Michael Owen or Harry Kane, whose own plays are more egregious and much more engaging, is seen as “clever” through the lens of the English media.
Klopp’s comments on protecting players aroused derision from ordinary circles, but Arsenal fans should go along with what he said. How many times has Arsene Wenger been mocked or mocked for making similar statements over the years? Even after three players – Abou Diaby, Eduardo and Aaron Ramsey – sustained some of the most terrifying injuries English football has ever seen, it was dismissed as a softer, different, foreigner. Arsenal just didn’t like it (as if someone does).
You’d have thought that in 2021, if we knew what we know about the game, learned from what came before, we wouldn’t have gotten to that point, but we are. It is a step backwards and it is dangerous. It’s one thing to be less intrusive about small things during a game, but completely ignoring – and thereby encouraging – challenges that can and have caused serious injury to players.
As usual, as with VAR and as in other areas over the years, PGMOL implemented something under the auspices of improving the game, but made it worse. How long does the Premier League have to suffer from an association that has not been fit for years? If this is what is known as the best league in the world, it should apply to all aspects and office plays a big part. You can’t be the best airline in the world if your pilots are told, “Ahh, just pick up the plane any way you want”.
By the way, Arsenal will play Burnley on Saturday.
Have a good one.