By Sona Walla
Is anyone alarmed at the level of violence in the English Premier League?
The frequency of overtly violent tackles is ever on the rise and it seems a leg is shattered every week, but the show seamlessly rolls on. English referees and the Football Association, the nation’s governing body, hardly penalize the culprits for these horrid acts, hiding behind the notion that the players are just being physical in the traditional British spirit of “getting stuck in.”
The result has gradually created a really dangerous environment full of brutes on the loose, brutes armed with violence as their only response to skill and creativity. In soccer, violence has always been a sign of weakness, of the incapacity to cope with the ability and talent of the opponent. Promising young French international Hatem Ben Arfa, who recently joined Newcastle United FC on loan, is the latest victim.
Dutch hardman Nigel de Jong has found a home in the Premier League with Manchester City, and really seems to like the loose environment. He recently shattered the skillful Ben Arfa’s tibia and fibula with one of his trademark reckless lunges and escaped without even a yellow-card warning. Wolverhampton FC captain Karl Henry made a vicious two-footed challenge on Wigan Athletic’s Jordi Gomez that same weekend, nearly producing similar results. There is clear intent to injure and one can only be grateful Henry did not make full contact. At least he was penalized with a red card.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has often pointed out the escalating problem of violence, but the bulk of the English football press has missed the point, instead ridiculing the Frenchman as a sore loser. All the while, the English FA has failed to seriously examine the grave reality: the English Premier League is a very dangerous soccer environment.
Wenger would know, having had many of his talents seriously hurt. Remember Eduardo, the blossoming Brazilian-born Croatian international? His career at the game’s highest level has been practically destroyed by one vicious tackle. Arsenal midfielders Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey have also been victims. Amazingly, Ryan Shawcross, who snapped the talented Ramsey’s leg last season with a brutal tackle, received so much support from factions of both the media and fans that one would have thought he was the victim. The 19-year-old Ramsey is still recovering and has yet to play in the league since his injury.
Most of these tackles are occurring in the midfield, so far from goal that the excuse of desperation cannot be used. The intent of such violent challenges must therefore be seriously examined. At this rate, creative players will soon be too afraid to play in England for fear of a career-ending injury. Cesc Fabregas, one of football’s brightest young talents has voiced his serious concerns about the lack of player protection in the Premier League.
As usual, club officials and factions of the British press have come rushing to de Jong’s defense. The English Premier League is now one of the world’s top leagues, and such a lucrative product that it seems many within it will tolerate no criticism, for fear of affecting its image and marketability. However, like Shawcross and Henry, the Dutchman is a repeat offender and the violence they perpetuate does little to promote the EPL.
De Jong broke young United States international Stuart Holden’s leg with a similarly reckless tackle in an international friendly prior to the 2010 World Cup, and was immediately warned by Dutch National team coach Bert van Marwjick that another such challenge could bring an end to his international career. The incorrigible de Jong nonetheless produced that wild kung-fu kick to Spanish star Xabi Alonso’s chest in the World Cup final where to the shock of many, English referee Howard Webb inexplicably failed to expel him from the match. That alone hinted at the clear disconnect that exists between what is tolerated in England versus the rest of the world.
Thank goodness Bert van Marwijck has finally dropped de Jong from the Netherlands national team after the Ben Arfa incident. With the English FA’s inexplicable inaction on the matter, this reprimand all the way from Holland – for violent conduct committed in the EPL – may well be the only one de Jong receives.
The English FA must step back and take a hard look at player protection in the Premier League environment. It may just realize the incompatibility of violence and “The Beautiful Game.”
Remember that game?