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The Ben Smith column: Will the art of tackling become extinct?

Over the last few weeks we have seen some high profile and controversial refereeing decisions regarding lunging tackles. As we know over the last ten years the rules of the game have evolved to encourage attacking play.

While we all love to see the top offensive players in full flow I would argue that an excellently timed tackle is just an impressive skill as a player curling a ball in the top corner or gliding past a defender with a double step over.

A bit of clarity is required to make sure everyone is aware what is and isn’t a tackle worthy of a red card. In my opinion of the recent debatable decisions Kompany’s tackle was an excellently well timed tackle and that Glen Johnson’s two footed lunge was reckless and therefore worthy of a red card.

In the case of Kompany when someone with the pain threshold of Nani, not only stays on his feet, but chases back to attempt to win the ball with no thought of appealing for a foul then that says it all. However we obviously all know that the opposite was true in the outlook of the referee.

Defending is an art. The best defenders will stay on their feet. Players such as Rio Ferdinand in his pomp would come off the pitch looking as immaculate as he did at the start of the game.

Normally because of poor play

When a defender has to lunge into a tackle it is normally because of either poor play or defending from the individual or one of his colleagues.

We are currently in a situation where we haven’t got a clue what tackle is and isn’t a sending off. I listen to phone ins on 5 Live and Talksport and hear people say that the officials have to use their discretion and common sense.

However, surely this is just what leads to inconsistency. Different referees will interpret different situations in different ways.

Concerning lunging tackles I hear people say, “How can that be a sending off he did not touch him!”

Well you don’t have to break someone’s leg for a tackle to be a sending off offence. As a player you can often see an aggressive tackle coming in and if you don’t think you can reciprocate the aggression you might decide to take some evasive action to ensure self preservation.

No less dangerous

This doesn’t make the tackle any less dangerous. If a player goes to punch someone and misses them than that is undoubtedly a sending off yet if someone goes in for a reckless lunge and the player on the receiving end avoids it then people will argue it isn’t a sending off.

Admittedly a lot of the time the players don’t help the match officials. Time after time we have to watch players writhing around in supposed agony after a robust tackle trying to deceive referees into making the wrong decision. We all know that if a player is seriously hurt more often than not they will be laying motionless.

If a player ends up rolling around on the floor three or four times you can be sure that two minutes later the player in question will be flying around the pitch as good as new.

I personally would be embarrassed to behave like that but this sort of behaviour, to deceive the referee, is admired in some countries.

However, in certain situations a player has to go to ground for the referee to give a decision. I played in a game last year where an opposition defender was dawdling on the ball in his penalty area.

The ball was no longer there...

I nicked the ball off him and as he went to kick the ball, which was no longer there, he kicked my leg but I didn’t have to go down so I played on.

During the next break in play the ref said to me, “Why didn’t you go down? That would have been a penalty.” I said that was irrelevant as if it was a foul whether I went down shouldn’t have made any difference.

So I do have sympathy at times when players get criticised for going down too easily. We all say players should stay on their feet but what do you expect them to do when you hear stories like that.

I am not one to criticise the officials as they have a thankless task. We regularly sit on the sofa every Sunday and watch the likes of Gary Neville, Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness watch five or six replays on incidents and still struggle to give a definitive judgement.

So how we can expect officials who get a split second to make a decision to get every call right is beyond me.

Subjected to expletives

I for one would not be an official for all the money in the world. The only job worse than being a referee is a fourth official, they are subjected to expletives and abuse from both benches throughout the game for decisions they did not make, and half the time they do not agree with, but have to pretend they do as a mark of solidarity to there colleagues.

Someone from the Professional Game Match Officials Board, who governs the referees, should come out and confirm what is and isn’t a reckless tackle so everyone is aware what does and doesn’t constitute a reckless challenge.

I also think supporters would have a lot more empathy towards officials if they could come out and explain some of their decisions to the media. We still wouldn’t always agree with the decisions but may have more of an understanding of why they made those decisions.

Give me your views on this subject via twitter @bsmudger7


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