Friday 6 March ~
This week has seen some examples of the uglier side of football. On Sunday, Everton striker Victor Anichebe was on the end of a terrible two-footed lunge by Newcastle's Kevin Nolan, who received a straight red card for the tackle and had to apologise after the game. The Nigerian suffered a knee injury that will see him on the sidelines until the end of the season. Then on Wednesday, West Ham captain Lucas Neill was lucky not to see red for a reckless sliding tackle on Wigan's Lee Cattermole, an incident that later saw the latter directly dismissed for a nasty retaliatory clash with Scott Parker in a bad-tempered game. On the same night, Steven Taylor escaped with a yellow card for a clothesline style forearm on Cristiano Ronaldo, followed by a late tackle on Michael Carrick in Newcastle's home defeat to Manchester United.
Given the events of this week, it has relit the debate about whether or not to introduce a system of punishment determined by a panel from the FA. Arsène Wenger has called for players who commit bad tackles and dangerous challenges to be given extended retrospective bans. Wenger considered the Nolan tackle, as many do, as "horrendous" and suggested that "even a straight red card is sometimes not enough". He urged the football authorities to consider retrospective bans in the future. "I feel that ten matches is not enough for some of the tackles we have seen. I feel the authorities should create a special committee to analyse if a three-match ban is sufficient."
The Arsenal manager speaks from personal experience, having seen his striker Eduardo miss nearly a full year of football after suffering a broken leg at the feet of Martin Taylor's late challenge against Birmingham last February – a scene that left the Croatian international's ankle in a mess with consequent fears over his career. Wenger's Arsenal sides of the past have hardly been a bunch of shrinking violets – 76 red cards have been issued to his players since he took charge in 1996. Wenger duly reflected on how football has changed since he came: "Overall, the game in England is not as dirty as when I first arrived here. But the difference is that some of the challenges today are more dangerous because the power of the players is so much greater."
Earlier in the season, Danny Guthrie produced a malicious challenge on Hull City's Craig Fagan, another player sidelined with a broken leg. Hull manager Phil Brown suggested that he thought Guthrie should be banned for as long as it took Fagan to recover, yet the Newcastle midfielder escaped further punishment for his shocking tackle. At the time, the FA explained that they had no power to issue extended bans to players who caused injury with dangerous tackles. "Every sending off carries an automatic sanction under the current regulations. The FA doesn't have the power to extend automatic suspensions. The only circumstances in which we could take any further action would be to issue an additional charge against a player. This occurs only in exceptional cases, such as Ben Thatcher's challenge on Pedro Mendes in 2006."
The event referred to saw Thatcher, then at Manchester City, handed an eight-match FA ban with another 15 games suspended for two years after a challenge on Portsmouth’s Mendes that left him concussed and requiring neurological tests. It may be time to make this a more common occurrence, though – it stands to reason that if the FA can downgrade referee decisions to wrongly send off a player then they can surely issue severer punishment for bad tackles, accidental or otherwise. Chris Hill