Players getting away with dangerous tackles
8 January ~ There are not many players who enjoy the respect of virtually all Italian fans. One of the few is Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi. He is admired for the way in which he has fought back in the last two years from two cruciate ligament injuries to become the leading scorer in Serie A with 14 goals. He is also admired for the fact that he goes about his business in a quiet, modest and professional way, unlike some of his Serie A colleagues. And, as his goals this season have shown, he is exceptionally good at his business.
There was therefore a general sense of shock throughout Italy on Sunday evening when he was laid low by a tackle from behind by Livorno defender Leandro Rinaudo. There were very real fears that the cruciate ligament in his right knee might have snapped again, which would have meant no World Cup and possibly an end to his career. It now seems that the injury is less severe than was feared, but he is still likely to be out for up to three months, and will be flying to America for a final diagnosis this week.
Rinaudo has already become something of a hate figure. This is in part because immediately after the foul, which was indisputable, he mouthed at the referee while pointedly ignoring Rossi. For those old enough to remember, think the 1982 World Cup and Toni Schumacher ignoring the plight of Patrick Battiston, whom he had almost killed with a kamikaze charge out of his goal that did not even produce a free-kick.
It is not therefore surprising that when Rinaudo did try to apologise to the Fiorentina players at the final whistle, they were not willing to listen, especially with their colleague in tears in the dressing room and invoking his dead father. Rinaudo claims that his foul was "normal" and that he is being victimised because of the name and history of his victim. The incident is one of those that you see far too often where players go charging in when their team is in no immediate danger.
So why do they do it? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that often the reason is to intimidate their opponent, and this is what Rinaudo seems to be doing. I am sure he did not want to hurt Rossi, but the foul was deliberate. One of the masters at this is Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini. In September he put Catania's Gonzalo Bergessio out for several months with a similar tackle when his team was winning 4-0 against ten men and the game was almost over. He was not sent off. He was at it again in Sunday's big match against Roma, taking Adem Ljajic out of the game. As usual he was only booked, but when Daniele de Rossi committed a similar foul on Chiellini in the second half, he was sent off.
I used to think that the days of notorious hardmen such as Claudio Gentile and Romeo Benetti were over, and that if they played today as they did 30 years ago, they would never last the 90 minutes. But now I am not so sure. We are seeing more and more pointless and potentially dangerous tackles being attempted by players when they are nowhere near either penalty area. This could mean that the old style "killers" never actually went away, though there are also those who think that the art of tackling cleanly has been lost. So maybe some tackles like Rinaudo's are intimidatory and others are just clumsy.
It is a long time since FIFA first tried to outlaw the tackle from behind, urging referees to punish it with a red card. The appeal is regularly repeated, but so far it appears to have fallen on deaf ears as referees almost invariably allow the perpetrators to remain on the field. If Rinaudo had known that a tackle from behind would have ended his participation in the game, he would surely have been more cautious. We would also have been spared his pathetic attempts to justify himself.
We must now all hope that Rossi makes a full recovery. The game needs players like him, and the World Cup will be the poorer without him. He is only 26, but I have the feeling that this may be his only appearance, because his knee could betray him at any time. It certainly will if he is regularly subjected to assaults like Rinaudo's. Richard Mason