The past week has witnessed Manchester City compete in England’s top two cup competitions with several common themes emerging from the two games. The most obvious and concerning to all City fans is that both games were played at home at the Etihad stadium against local North West opponents and both resulted in a defeat on a ground where City hasn’t tasted defeat in over a year. However, the common theme that has dominated the press talk and divided opinion relates to the dreaded “two footed tackle”. Both games witnessed the implementation of the so called “Two footed tackle” but the outcome of each incident could not have been different, with City the apparent victims on both occasions. So why can two seemingly similar incidents end up producing opposite results and just what are the rules governing the so called “two footed tackle”?
City’s first game pitched them against their fiercest rivals and neighbours Manchester United in the 3rd round of the FA cup. The Red Devils still smarting from the 6-1 home demolition inflicted upon them by City in the seasons earlier league encounter and last seasons semi-final defeat to City were seeking retribution. Both teams were hindered by significant injury losses and absent African Nations Cup participants but both fielded an international laden starting eleven.
Against the early run of play United’s talisman, Wayne Rooney orchestrated and finished off a fine move in the tenth minute, scoring with an unstoppable header past England team mate Joe hart. However, the major incident and arguably the turning point of the game occurred 2 minutes later when Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany was red carded for an alleged “two footed” tackle on United’s winger Nani. Kompany clearly won the ball and made no contact with his opponent, who, for a player with a reputation for exaggerating the minimal of contact, demonstrated no outward indications of wrong doing and simply got on with the job of trying to retrieve the ball. It would seem that the only people in the ground that deemed this a sending off offence was the match referee, Chris Foy and of course Wayne Rooney and Sir Furious.
United took full advantage of their extra man and forged into 3 nil lead at half time with the Red Army no doubt confident that the ghost of that 6-1 defeat was about to be well and truly laid to rest. However, Mancini once more demonstrated his tactical know how, replacing his two playmakers, Johnson and Silva at half time for a more defensive formation which culminated in City dominating the second half, pulling two goals back and almost equalising at the death.
Although City lost the tie and exited this year’s cup competition it was they and not the victors United that received all the post match plaudits, testified by Sir Alex Ferguson’s very testy post match interview.
City’s second game saw the other local reds from down the East Lancs road visit the Etihad stadium for the first leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. The game was a rather tepid affair, with Liverpool taking a deserved early lead through a Steven Gerrard penalty and then proceeding to park the proverbial team bus across their 18 yard line, inviting City to break them down, which without the missing mercurial talents of David Silva and the brute force of Yaya Toure they never looked like achieving.
The game was drifting towards its inevitable conclusion when Liverpool and England fullback, Glen Johnson inexplicably launched into a “two footed tackle” on fellow England defender Joleon Lescott, who thankfully managed to nimbly avoid the expected collision. You could almost hear the millions of viewer’s voices crying out in unison “that was much worse than Kompany’s tackle, he has to go” but on the field he remained, no red card, no yellow card, not even a foul.
Mancini was incensed, not because he wanted Johnson sent off, but because of the perceived injustice of having his captain sat in the stands for four crucial matches, having had his appeal against the red card inevitably thrown out a day earlier for an offence that was clearly less reckless than the one just witnessed.
So why? Why is Vincent Kompany forced to miss four vital games for City whilst Glen Johnson is costless to participate in Liverpool’s upcoming fixtures, including the return leg against City at Anfield. What is a “two footed tackle”? Well in reality, every tackle is a two footed tackle. I have yet to witness the first professional one legged footballer and therefore any movement on the football field requires the use of two legs, including tackling.
The FA rules states that a red should be shown to a player for “serious foul play” which includes any use of excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball. Examples include a dangerous slide tackle from behind, or an “over the top tackle” in which a player raises his foot so the studs could hit a player, or a two footed tackle that takes down the opponent. FIFA have broadened this definition by stating that “any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.
Applying these rules, it is very difficult to make a case for Kompany’s dismissal, yes, he may have intercepted the ball with two legs forward where perhaps he would normally have used just one but at no point did he appear to “endanger” the safety of his opponent or indeed have any intent to do so. The Johnson tackle however, was performed in such a manner where both feet were off the ground with studs aimed at the ball but with the potential to hit the opponent and was certainly carried out with excessive force in a manner that could clearly of endangered the safety of his opponent. A clear sending off offence in accordance with the rules it would appear.
It would seem to most people that there has been a clear miscarriage of justice in this instant. Surely implementing the foregoing rules it is Johnson that should be collecting his pie and Bovril on match day whilst Kompany leads his team in to battle. So why is this not so? Is there are conspiracy against Manchester City, who have dared to gatecrash the higher echelons of English football upsetting the great Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement plans or is it a simple case of incompetency, interpretation or simple human error?
Modern referees are now professional, which means that for 7 days a week their job is to learn the rules and implement them in a consistent manner during matches. Surely there is enough television footage of football available to the referee’s association to enable them to sit down with their employees and determine what type of tackle is deemed dangerous against what is a genuine attempt to win the ball. Surely if every professional referee attends the same seminar and the same interpretation of the law is hammered home then it stands to reason that we should witness the same outcome for the same occurrence. I don’t know what training the modern referee receives but I’m sure if a primary school teacher taught her pupils every day that 2 + 2 = 4 she would be very perplexed if she consistently received answers of 5, 6 or 7 etc.
It has long been the public perception that the modern footballer is an overpaid, uneducated prima dona, with no perception of reality. Maybe in creating the “Professional Referee” we have bred the equivalent “Official” It’s a scary thought!!