I watched the FA Cup tie against Brighton & Falmer Albion in rather dreary modern pub close to where Tony and I usually meet to travel down to the Emirates. They had the game on their (biggish) screen and it was convenient for hooking up with the twins. There was no sound so we had no idea what the commentators were saying; we just enjoyed (mostly at least) Arsenal’s dominance.
Later that evening I watched some of the BBC’s Match of the Day programme (I was flitting between that and an excellent documentary about Winston Churchill’s mental health). Anyway I saw the highlights from the AMEX stadium and marvelled at Rosicky’s skill – something the experts were quick to enthuse about.
All except Philip Neville.
He stated that he thought Tomas was taking the piss and that he would have given him a ‘two footer’ meaning he would have risked injuring him in a lunging tackle, just to teach him a lesson. He went on to add, when challenged by the other presenters, to say that yes, he’d have done the same to his OWN players in training (for example Ronaldo or Ross Barkley).
Let’s just revisit this for a moment. What Neville was saying was that it is ok to deliberately foul someone in training or on the pitch if they display a level of skill that exceeds your own. It is ok to risk breaking a player’s leg simply because they have the skill to make you look like a fool. He was, in effect, justifying violence because his pride had been hurt.
What message does this send out to the journeymen footballers of England? What message does it send to young players and their coaches? Would we be surprised if on the next occasion kids are playing football in the park, on the school playing field (if any of these still exist…) or at the local football club, to see a reducer challenge on the first youngster that tries a step over, Cruyff turn or gives the defender ‘the eyes’?
Result? Well perhaps next time the little ‘show off’ will stick to something simpler, less flashy, and altogether less skilful. That’s going to help the national game eh Mr Neville? Bet your brother Gary is going to be very happy about that.
Neville played for Manchester United and they once had a player called George Best. Best was a trickster, a consummate footballer who could tie defenders in knots with his dribbling and close possession skills. He did this on some of the muddiest pitches I’ve ever seen outside of non-league. Players like Best inspire people to play football, they excite the crowds, they win matches on their own; in short, they are artists. If people like Philip Neville have their way the likes of George Best would have spent as much time on the treatment table as on the pitch.
We’ve seen it with Diaby, with Ramsey, with Jack Wilshere, with Eduardo and a whole litany of others; skilful footballers whose careers have been truncated or cut short by injury, often as the result of awful tackles by less skilful fellow professionals. Ok, sometimes it’s accidental, the players were too slow or mistimed their interventions, but as we saw with Ryan ‘not-that-sort-of –player’ Shawcross, all too often it is deliberate.
And comments like those made by Neville justify these sorts of tackles to other professionals. I’m pleased Lawrenson and the other presenters challenged his comments but they didn’t condemn them. In the end it was rather laughed off.
But it isn’t funny. It’s indicative of attitudes out there, the same attitude that allows premiership referees license to ignore the routine rotational fouling of Arsenal players.
I complained to the BBC, I downloaded a form and sent it off. You can do the same if you feel like it, just follow the link here. I don’t want people like Neville sanctioning violence towards gifted players like Rosicky (or Ronaldo, Hazard, Bale or anyone) and I certainly don’t want my license fee being used to pay him to.
We don’t have to suffer in silence, much of what passes for ‘expert opinion’ on MOTD, ITV, Sky and BTSport is little more than PPP (piss poor punditry). We can’t do much about most of it but I urge you all to complain about Neville.
Neville has said it was all a joke , which is the last refuge for the person that realises (too late) that they have been found out (see Ron Atkinson and Andy Gray as recent examples) and who try to deflect the criticism by pretending it was all ‘tongue in cheek’ rather than ‘foot in mouth’.
But it won’t wash, it isn’t a joke Phil, you are.
21 January 2006: Abou Diaby debut in a 1-0 defeat to Everton. A brilliant player whose career was wrecked by injury following a lunatic assault on him by Dan Smith in May the same year.
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