MARTIN SAMUEL: How can so many broken legs be down to chance?
It was a familiar speech. 'There is no way that was a malicious challenge,' said David Kemp, assistant manager of Stoke City. 'Ryan isn't that sort of player. It was probably a new experience for him to get frustrated, that's why he chased down the ball and made that tackle. 'There was no malicious intent. It was a genuine attempt. We've seen far worse challenges go unpunished. It was just one of those football injuries, one of those incidents that frequently happen in the game. Before long Ryan might be on the end of one himself.' Over time, only the names change. The quickest of wit will have spotted that Kemp is now Stoke's chief scout, not assistant to Tony Pulis. His observation was not from Saturday, when Shawcross broke the leg of Aaron Ramsey, but from 2007 when he broke the leg of Francis Jeffers of Sheffield Wednesday with a tackle from behind. Maybe Arsene Wenger is correct not to believe in coincidence. Who's sorry now? Ryan Shawcross's careless tackle breaks Aaron Ramsey's right leg Shawcross left the Britannia Stadium distraught at this latest calamity. So he should be. Ramsey is a precociously-talented teenage footballer, and who knows when he will play again, or what path his career will now take? These days, football gets its mitigations in early. It was the first time Shawcross has received a red card; he has subsequently and justifiably been called into the England squad and the majority agree there was no desire to harm in his challenge. Yet malicious intent - the motivation to actually cause serious injury - is rare in football. One thinks of Roy Keane's tackle on Alf Inge Haaland in the Manchester derby or the one by Gavin Maguire of Queens Park Rangers that ended the career of England full back Danny Thomas, and resulted in a compensation pay-out of £130,000. Shawcross did not tackle Ramsey like that. He did however arrive late and with sufficient abandon to lose any chance of controlling the consequences. The greatest sickness in English football is that we do not recognise the wrong in that. 'Spare me about how nice Shawcross is,' Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said acidly; but the testimonials to his decency were already under construction. More from Martin Samuel... Martin Samuel on the Carling Cup final: We've no right to a free hit on the house28/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Jonny Wilkinson is just a mirror of England's mediocrity28/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Left back at home, Wayne Bridge let nobody down 25/02/10 Martin Samuel: Jose Mourinho is a master of both Chelsea and Inter Milan24/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Here's why Jose Mourinho really is so...special23/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Jowell deserves an Olympic medal in utter madness21/02/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Brand Tiger is out of a hole, now let the cash tills ring19/02/10 GREAVSIE: England's most prolific goalscorer, but now he prefers rugby19/02/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE And, despite his previous with Jeffers, Shawcross does not seem a wicked sort; yet neither was Martin Taylor of Birmingham City, the defender who shattered Eduardo's leg almost two years ago to the day. So when Wenger dismisses the idea of coincidence in the number, and severity, of serious injuries Arsenal suffer during matches - three broken legs from foul tackles in five years - he has a point. If his players were the victims of notorious hard men, Tommy Smith types who leave a string of wounded victims scattered in their wake throughout football, it might be coincidence. That two players with little reputation for brutality - certainly Taylor was a boy scout compared to most central defenders - end up making potentially career-ending tackles against players from the same club demands closer inspection. Wenger believes players are told to get at Arsenal by roughing them up, and the evidence, while circumstantial, suggests he has a point. Shawcross did not seek to injure Ramsey but he will no doubt be aware of the theory that Arsenal don't like it up them, and may have responded accordingly. Perhaps he heard it in the dressing room before the game. Stoke City are not a dirty team and Pulis has done an exceptional job there, but is it beyond the realms of possibility that he employed one of football's many euphemisms, prior to the game? Something about letting them know you are there, or seeing if they fancy it? What do these phrases mean if not 'go in extra hard and test their courage'? And, at that point, are the margins between hard/fair and hard/dangerous not frighteningly small? Pulis would never say 'go out and break Ramsey's leg', and any coach who talks in those terms is despised by his contemporaries, but that does not mean Stoke's management team did not place emphasis on the physical aspect of the game. Let's face it, no manager outside the top of the Premier League is going to attempt to win by out-passing Arsenal. Kevin Keegan, ever the optimist, tried it during his brief return to Newcastle United, lost heavily twice, and was mocked for his naivety. Even Chelsea, who have beaten Arsenal 5-0 on aggregate in two matches this season, did so while making full use of their physical advantages. With players such as Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and John Terry, they out-muscled Arsenal and, in doing so, out-played them, too. Wenger moaned after the game, but was dismissed. Chelsea were clearly superior and Arsenal could not compete with their athleticism, which then led to domination in technical areas. Yet, however baseless his complaints on those occasions, Wenger has the beginnings of an argument in the way Arsenal are regarded as a soft touch, and therefore fair game for bullies. Crying shame: Shawcross leaves the field in tears after the challenge Wenger feels that because English football believes Arsenal's largely foreign squad is excessively fancy, this creates a climate which legitimises rough tactics as a way of beating them. Chris Morgan, captain of Sheffield United, punched Robin van Persie, the Arsenal striker, in the ribs on the blind side during a match in 2006, but after the game there was greater focus on Van Persie's refusal to offer his hand at the end. As if an off-the-ball punch was something Arsenal's softies just had to overcome, and they were bad sports if they could not. In essence, while English football employs this mindset, it is playing a version of the rules, not the real thing. 'It wasn't a bad tackle' is the standard line, isn't it? On the sofa, in the studio, in the press box, from the phone-ins. 'It didn't look that bad. There wasn't much intent. He's not that kind of player. He was just too quick for him. I thought the ref had a good game, actually. He let it flow.' This last phrase - and we have all used it - translates as letting the players operate on the absolute boundaries of what is legal; a standing leg on this side of the divide, a raised foot on the other. The reaction to the Shawcross and Taylor tackles is telling. Alan Hansen, Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker were stoic over what Shawcross had done, reviewing the footage on Match of the Day. Similarly, at the time of the Taylor tackle on Eduardo, Steve Bruce, a respected central defender, now manager of Sunderland and his former boss at Birmingham, did not even see the challenge as a yellow card. From season to season, the justifications are unaltered. More than three decades' experience in English football at least made Kemp smart enough to predict that the challenge on Jeffers was not the last leg-breaking tackle in which Shawcross would be involved. And he is one of the good guys, apparently. There, in a nutshell, is the problem. Bridge proved Fabio rightThe biggest red herring in the shambles surrounding the whole John Terry-Wayne Bridge affair is that Fabio Capello, the England manager, has emerged from it badly. The logic runs that he has now lost his reserve left back anyway, so ditching his captain proved a pointless, counter-productive gesture. Yet imagine the furore had Terry still been captain and Bridge had quit the team. Imagine the mountain from a molehill that would have been fashioned after Craig Bellamy's pointed remarks about Terry's character. Imagine an England captain getting booed on to the pitch at Wembley, as will surely, and misguidedly, happen to Terry on Wednesday night. In the resulting fall-out from Bridge's withdrawal, Terry's position would have become untenable and he would have had to stand down - except in circumstances that would have been considerably worse, with Capello now in a position of weakness, having lost the captain against his will. Terry has received support from within the game but so, too, has Bridge: enough to suggest divisions in the dressing room had he remained. A crack quickly becomes a chasm under the pressure of the World Cup and the relationship between a player and team-mate is different from that of the captain and the team. Capello acknowledged this and the past seven days have vindicated him. AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT...The bad news is that Sven Goran Eriksson will not be going to the World Cup as coach of Nigeria after all. The good news is that a Nigerian chief still wants to give him £500,000 and all he has to do is email back his bank details. So things are looking up. Ian Watmore, the Football Association chief executive, is considering ways to revamp the FA Cup. 'When I was growing up you could name every FA Cup winner,' he said. 'Kids today do the same with the Champions League.' There is a reason for that. The Champions League has not been retained since 1990 and has been won by 12 different clubs in 20 years. In the same period seven clubs have won the FA Cup and on 17 occasions it has been won by just four: Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. That is why the winners are no longer memorable: they all run into one. The marriage of Ashley and Cheryl Cole ended in a very modern way. Not with a bang, but with a Twitter. Ryder's wives...Colin Montgomerie, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, says that Tiger Woods will find the going tough at Celtic Manor later this year. Not the golf, but the social scene. Swinging womaniser: Tiger Woods 'He will worry how the wives of the other players will react to him,' Montgomerie said. 'Some might find it hard to welcome Tiger back into the group.' Let's get one thing straight. The only interesting thing about the Ryder Cup wives is how their husbands hit a golf ball. It is a recent development that the monkeys' parade following the golfers is part of the event, encouraged by the sort of television producers who think there is too much golf in the golf coverage. To the real fan it would make no difference at all if the wives stayed home. So the spouses accept the greatest golfer in the world or they hit the health spa. They are not there to judge, but to support, and if they cannot do that should not be there at all. (And before the letters start, the same would apply to husbands at the Solheim Cup.) UEFA make figures fitUEFA leaked a report last week that claimed English clubs owed 56 per cent of the football debt across Europe. Shocking. There was just one problem with this: like much that emanates from their offices in Nyon it was not entirely accurate. An out-dated exchange rate made the numbers look worse. The correct figure is 43 per cent, which is still not good, but nearly a quarter less than reported. Then there is the fact that total English debt is inflated disproportionately by the circumstances at Liverpool and Manchester United. Even UEFA concede this accounts for over half the Premier League debt. Still, this report will be used to support UEFA's warped concept of financial fair play, limiting spending to football-related income, which will make the biggest clubs unassailable. Manchester City and Chelsea would not be let into Europe if UEFA's rules pass, but Manchester United would. So as one problem is solved, an equally debilitating one is created. Fairer competition is an argument for another day, we are told, which is a bit like finding a cure for cancer that makes your limbs fall off, only to be told it is your business how you get home from hospital. CONTACT MARTIN AT: firstname.lastname@example.org
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