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October 2016
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Smash Them: The truth about the English approach to skilful football


Smash Them!

By Proud Kev

As most of you know Manchester United are the biggest club in the World. We know this because we are reminded of it on a regular basis. This is a club that enjoyed domination of English football and the Premier League, using their financial wealth and their magnet-like attraction for big players. They were always able to attract and buy the best players, rarely faced with a richer or more attractive proposition.

There was always a suspicion that the power they held and the intimidation they applied to match officials, afforded them many ‘extra’ benefits. From the accusations of Fergie time to the claims made by Graham Poll about the systematic intimidation that became part of the Old Trafford culture, there was much suspicion about what went on.

There were jokes about referee Mike Riley, now head of PGMO, being Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s best strike partner due to the number of penalties he awarded for Manchester United.

Anyone wanting an example of the way Manchester United were able to win games, without actually winning them, should remember the infamous day when Arsenal tried to extend our unbeaten run to 50 games. Every time you watch a re-run of that game officiated by Mike Riley, his application of the rules of the game look worse.

An example of one team deciding that the only way they could win was to kick the opposition, safe in the knowledge that the referee would allow it. The treatment dished out to one player in particular, Reyes, started from the first minute, with both Neville’s smashing him several times, with Riley turning a blind eye. In that game, Riley failed to apply the rules of the game on too many occasions for it not to be called suspicious.

With Eduardo, Ramsey and Diaby all on the receiving end of brutal tackles from British players, a pattern emerges. No other manager of any club has had to witness three players carried from the field with horrific broken limbs. Coincidence? Read on and you will see it is not a coincidence.

Smash them

Date: 24th January 2014.

Arsenal played away at Brighton in an FA Cup game. This game demonstrated what a great player we all know Tomas Rosicky is. So impressive was his performance that after the game Arsene Wenger made that memorable statement; “If you love football then you love Tomas Rosicky”.

Unfortunately this statement does not apply to the thugs in this country that sneer at skilful players. This has become evident in the way our referees and our media celebrate robust tackling and physical challenges and the sympathy afforded to those making the tackles. The players labelled ‘not that type of player’.

On BBC’s Match of the Day, there was an attempt to praise Tomas Rosicky’s performance. They showed a brilliant piece of skill, in which Roscicky deceived three defenders  by looking in the opposite direction to the pass he made. He picked up the return pass and scored the sort of goal that gets us supporters off our feet.

One of the pundits in the BBC studio was former Manchester United player Phil Neville. Instead of praising Rosickys skill he went straight into rant mode. To the watching millions he said…

Phil Neville: “If that was a training session and somebody did that I’d be first over there and I’d probably look to two-foot him or take him out of the game. If somebody did that in training to me, winding me up, I would be straight in there. I’ld SMASH them”

This is a shocking statement. Telling all the kids out there that skilful players should be ‘smashed’ or ‘two footed’. There was some outrage about his comment and he was forced to make an apology. His apology was as embarrassing as it was insincere, claiming he meant it tongue in cheek. He didn’t, he meant it all right.

Date: 10th March 2016

Liverpool and Manchester United, two highly praised clubs in the media, met in a Europa League game. A competition designed to give smaller clubs like Spurs European competition, the game was billed as a game between the giants of English football. One of these giants has never won the Premier League in 23 attempts, the other has massively under achieved based on its financial advantages and the £350 million spent.

Liverpool won the game at a canter, with Adam Lallana proving that not all English players are technically inept. He produced a display of considerable skill, which all followers of football should enjoy. But not Paul Scholes, who like Neville seems to hate skilful play.

Paul Scholes: “United were a shambles. Every one of them, players and manager, are falling short of those standards. I see Lallana after 60 minutes stud-rolling; someone tackle him, SMASH HIM”

For years many of us have been saying that in English football, skilful play is disliked and that certain players are targeted. Arsenal have suffered more serious injuries at the hands of British players than any other team and that is not a coincidence. It is the result of an accepted tactic and one the dinosaurs in our game are proud of.

We know from previous articles and comments made by former referee Keith Hackett, that English referees apply the rules in a way to accommodate this tactic. Continental referees provide more protection to players, with less tolerance for reckless, dangerous tackles.

Manchester United prove this point. Both Phil Neville and Paul Scholes have used the word ‘Smash’ to describe their approach to skilful players. Gary Neville has also used this phrase during his brief attempt at punditry. Coincidence? No, it is clearly the language used by Alex Ferguson and the way Manchester United approached games and were allowed to get away with it. This explains that 50th game perfectly.

So next time you watch the pundits after a game, listen clearly. Have no doubt that ‘smashing’ skilful players is a tactic and one which has left resulted in our National Team being an embarrassment. The sooner we praise skilful play and remove this idea that skilful players should be ‘smashed’ the better.

But don’t hold your breath, remember the English invented the game. And Manchester United set the rules.

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23 comments to Smash Them: The truth about the English approach to skilful football

  • Simon

    Love how you mention Scholes in this “smash” method, a player more gifted than any midfielder to pass through the Wenger tenure. You seem to forget that Utd possessed players like Cantona, Giggs, Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy,Rooney and a multitude more, players who aside from flare and naturally skill also possessed a winning mentality. Wengers EPL wins seem like an absolute age ago and the reason for his only 3 championships is not to do with injuries but his failure to accept and embrace change. There is literally no comparison between the two managers.

    It’s quite sad really that you would go to the bother of writing this, I suppose those it was obviously intended for you deluded gunners, I just happen to be dragged here through news now feed!!

  • virg

    This is all too true and very disconcerting. And players like Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are chastised for taking players on because this could see them get injured, when in actual fact, those injuries are largely due to the opposition’s horrible tactics and the terribly poor refereeing that condones such play.

    In other countries players are encouraged to take others on, pull defenders out of position, make space and play quick passes. But this approach is labelled weak “tippy-tappy” football by English journalists and pundits.

  • colario

    Thug football rules outside of England when an English Ref is in control of the game. The World Cup Final in south Africa!

  • virg


    Nobody can deny that United have had squads possessing some of the most skillful players ever. What is being said here is that the style of play being promoted in England nowadays is backward and nothing but detrimental to the future of the game in the country.

    And you cannot deny that those comments were made by Neville and Scholes. Arsenal had an amazing rivalry with United when both clubs were at their best in the prem era. So apart from United fans Arsenal fans should know best the kind of magic United were capable of creating.

    But more than any other set of fans, Arsenal fans know best the type of harm the English game causes. Careers of Arsenal players have been completely derailed over the years due to horror tackles and the club has been set back years because of it. This year United have adopted the Van Gaal style and just look at their number of injuries.

  • Menace

    Before Manchester United started to rule English football (the Premier League), it was ruled by Liverpool. Liverpool were owned & subsidised by Littlewoods or the Moore family. The wealth made them able to ‘hoard’ the best players. Manchester United took over (into the Premier League) with the wealth of their smart marketing that earned them world wide fame. Arsenal with an intelligent board managed to get a slice of the action until the obscene wealth of Abramovic came into the game & rotted its sporting history. The physical abuse of players was a carry from the nailed on leather studs into the era of bullies. These eventually petered out until the skill started winning. It has come back witha vengence at the same time as the officiating PGMO took control.

    There is a new addition of selective vision by officials & media to allow corruption in sport. There is nothing that can be done when the FA are complicit.

  • dan

    Being an under 12’s manager, I’ve witnessed this English (passion) thuggery many times. Some of most skilled players are of Asian descent, much smaller in building but very skilled. Many times it would be the parent demanding his/her child smash him, even had a parent trying to physically hurt one of my players. Most of refs in these minor leagues don’t provide protection.

  • finsbury

    One home tournament victory, allegedly with the aid of dodgy official and linesman, since the start of competitive international association football tournaments would mean to the casual or even the logical observer that Simon’s valiant comment above was in vain.

    You can’t hide the numbers. Or data. Stats some call ’em.

    Great stuff Kev. In short to paraphrase a friend: to conflate a style of football with nationalism is insane.
    But here it is. PgMOB Rules Football. Ok?

  • Rosicky@Arsenal

    Great read.I completely agree to the points made.

    The game in England is being destroyed by players like scholes n Neville. Infact Scholes was such a ridiculous player that he picked the most yellows in a PL callender such was his ruthless tackling that he picked yellows even Fergies PGmol had no other option.

    Rosickys class is beyond reach of Nevilles n Scholes.

    Secondly there is no denying the fact that most of Fergies trophies were gifted to United by biased refreeing n Fergie should be stripped of the knighthood due to such shameful malpractices.

  • Florian

    One might wonder how is it possible that a human can possibly hurt another physically on a football field and not serve jail time. How is it that the sporting law is above the rule of the land on which the match is played? In any civil situation, what the pundits advocated for would result in immediate police action and detention of the aggressor.

  • proudkev

    I have not said Scholes was not a classy player, he was. This was not an attempt to say arsenal players are more skilfull than Man Utd players either.

    1. The article was about tactics. The quotes were made by Scholes and both Neville brothers, they are there as proof of their attitude to skilful play.

    2. The Eduardo, Ramsey and Diaby tackles are a matter of fact. Eduardo was ‘smashed’ less than 5 minutes by a British thug clearly instructed to smash the opposition. It worked, a skilful player was stopped and better than that, he didn’t play again for 12 months.

    3. The 50th game is there for all to see. Watch it. That game is a perfect example of the tactics employed – this accepted British tactic of ‘smashing’ players with skill. A tactic encouraged by the way our referees interpret the rules and one embraced by ex players like Scholes and Neville. They aren’t unique but it’s not a coincidence they use the same word ‘smash’. Imagine watching your kid play and then hear the opposition manager telling his players to ‘smash’ him. Well Scholes and Neville told millions of viewers it’s fine.

    You can deny the facts but don’t blame me every time England embarrass us all in tournaments.

    Or if some skilful player ends up with a broken leg or a career ended. It’s not an acceptable tactic, that’s the point.

  • Florian

    And what better proof for the thuggish style of football than having the best player in the EPL ranked no higher than 6th in the UEFA Best Player shortlist since 2010-2011:

    Rooney in 2010-2011, Hazard last year. By comparison, the Italian Serie A saw Pirlo getting 4th in 2012, and Buffon last year.

  • Florian

    Well, thuggish by comparison, but the point stands.

  • Mandy Dodd

    I am pretty sure Wenger has done his bit to make the game here more technical, or tried anyway, but has clearly met a bit of resistance resulting in three snapped limbs , countless other injuries, a raw deal from the media and idiot pundits like Scholes….who for some reason seems a bit obsessed with Wenger, even when he is commenting on poor Utd performances….and of course the minimal protection from refs.
    I hope when Wenger calls it a day, a few years down the line, the new guy won’t resort to the mindnumbingly basic Britball, and that Wengers legacy will in part ensure that this form of the game is forever beneath Arsenal FC. Yes, we once played it, but we should never have to resort to this again no matter what others do, or how some clearly profit from it….especially this season.

  • omgarsenal

    Don’t forget that most referees in the EPL grew up with that crunching tackle football that Leeds and others played back in the 70’s. I officiated the England 1966 WC champions while they were on tour and can attest to their individual and group skills. they played the same skillful and hard Football as Germany did and both teams were almost identical in their playing philosophy.
    Referees today remember that fearsome Football and in the EPL have supplanted it with violent and serious foul play football, where anything goes against teams trying to be skillful. When results count more than the Game itself, you end up with brutality and fanatical violence over skill and tactical nous. Teams playing the Arsenal part the double decker busses and hope to play on the counter…..effective on occasion but horrible football nonetheless…..we keep pounding at the gates but lately have been unable to take our bountiful chances….ww need a ruthlessness to score and a precision to take our chances….that will come!

  • mojola

    Seems dere is a huge gang up against everything arsene wenger stands for,even players that prospered under him,and the truth is they will never rest till dey get him out.and also will discredit all his achievement,”his success was based on graham defense they would say( but the invincible team,apart from keown,who was a part player all the players were wenger’ s acquisition),one ridiculous commenter on arseblog said the beautiful football was pat rice’s thing,nd since he left arsenal gas stopped playing good football,discovering nd nurturing talent they will say he stumbled on them( bellerin nd coquelin),arsenal keeps clean sheet,its bould’s effect, arsenal’s team less in goals,wenger doesn’t allow bould do defensive tactics and he doesn’t know how to do defense.but the truth is nobody can force him out,nd I can imagine if d next guy starts shipping in trophies the narrative will be wht wenger can’t do in so so. number of years this guy delivered,wen rather it shud b dt wenger built a solid foundation for d success.this players should just call down nd play their skin out for the manager who has shown faith in yhem.and for the wenger is arsenal problem crew.either u accept it as it is or go jump off a cliff cos the man ain’t goin nowhere soon

  • serge


    Wenger said that he would like Scholes in his team, even though he was “unfair” and had a “darker side”. Praise indeed.
    Are you sure you’ve seen him play? One of the best (possibly the actual best) box to box mids in the history of the Premier League.
    Bit of a prick as a pundit though.

  • Rosicky@Arsenal


    Pls dont tell me how disciplined scholes was.
    He has been booked 99 time the third highest for a player in the PL era.
    Wenger has rather criticised him for his discipline.
    I would prefer to see Rosicky playing his beautiful football than an ill disciplined scholes getting booked every time he comes on the field and play dorty.

  • para

    Until UK adopts the change to football they will never again get anywhere in international football.

    Sadly this mentality stretches throughout the English mindset:
    Cant do it? Stop them from doing it.
    Dont have it? Steal it.
    Cant build it? Destroy it.
    They are better than you. Smash them.
    Dont speak English? I’m not talking to you.

    This is not to say that all are like this, signs show that it(the mindset) is changing, but only very slow, even while the “old boy network” works very hard to prevent it.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice one , Proud Kev – a big LIKE from me .

  • Agreed, I was of a very slight build as a youngster. Pretty skillful with a good eye for a through ball and anticipation in the game. I gave up at under 13’s in the early 90’s after being repeatedly booted off the park by players a foot taller than me, who were sporting 5 o’clock shadows and at least twice my weight.
    There was no encouragement or protection for smaller skillful players and it seems only too likely that my experience has been repeated thousands of times since.

  • tim nash

    The “smash them” – ‘all at em’, fathers screaming at 9 year olds – approach to football in the UK thats been so wonderfully successful since … er, 1966.

    But, fast violent football makes good TV – is very popular around the world – and so generates money. Hence, don’t expect our current primate-based approach to referring to improve anytime soon

  • Va Cong

    That was beaufitul proudKev

  • Pat

    I come late to this article and probably no one will read this, but thank you, proud Kev, for summing up the evidence on this subject so clearly.

    I still remember a footballer known for liking to use his skills and being thoroughly criticised by Mourinho for doing so, saying that John Terry was a very skilful player but rarely used these particular skills on the pitch. This is a pity I think. I know Terry is a great defender but he appears to have simply sacrificed part of his footballing talent to play the old English way.