There are sports in which injury is such an ever-present menace that the scars are carried almost like trophies of war. Tony McCoy broke his back, or at least a vertebra in it, in January, and yet so obsessive is the Irish multi-champion jump jockey's desire to ride at the Cheltenham Festival in nine days' time that he has gone to extraordinary lengths to swing back into the saddle, including undergoing temperatures of –130C in a cryotherapy unit. He has done so in the certain knowledge that one mistimed leap by a particular partner and he will place limb and life in jeopardy once again among flailing hooves.
Well, jump jockeys, they say, are certifiable. Then there is Mike Tindall, whose detailing of how he tore a hole in his liver and punctured a lung at Twickenham made our blood run cold. Since 2003, he has also suffered a broken foot and leg and had his shoulder reconstructed. Horrible injuries, yet they are almost regarded as occupational hazards, part of the sport's inherent perils.
Footballers don't expect it, though. Sure, they tend to collapse, gargoyles of agony, clutching knees and shins and faces; they collect groin strains and hamstrings like precious works of art. But they don't expect to look down and survey their foot facing in a different direction to their knee. So rare, at elite level at least, is the kind of injurythat Eduardo da Silva experienced against Birmingham last Saturday that we remember them vividly. We will not easily forget the demeanours of his team-mates, either. Giants of men such as Emmanuel Ade-bayor threatened to keel over. Cesc Fabregas suddenly looked the 20-year-old we easily forget he is. It was part shock at the spectacle, part realisation that they are within a split second of a career-ending challenge. As for their manager, Arsène Wenger, just because he is accessible, analytical and eminently quotable does not mean he is emotionally retarded. Anything but. You could imagine the mounting sense of rage on behalf of his Croatian international, who may display that rich talent once again but equally may not, and will possibly undergo, as one medical expert put it, "anger, tearfulness and sometimes depression". The Frenchman responded with the raw emotion of a parent watching one of his children suffer.
Inevitably, opprobrium was heaped upon Wenger after he had declared that the culprit, Martin Taylor, should be "banned for life". The Arsenal manager later softened his stance, but even by Friday was still only prepared to give Taylor the "benefit of the doubt", while continuing the debate by suggesting that we should inspect Alexander Hleb's legs after a match. After the Birmingham manager Alex McLeish's command to his players that they "show a wee bit of steel", Wenger said darkly: "I am long enough in the game to know what happens in the dressing rooms before the games..."
One can understand his ire, though it would be rather more convincing if the words had not emerged from the often hypocritical lips of a man whose Arsenal players have amassed 72 dismissals. But then the Frenchman has long been an avowed advocate of that managerial decree: condemn every perceived sin of your rivals but defend to the death your own team. To concede guilt is not considered a sign of decency but one of weakness. Wenger is not alone – the same can be said of Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rafa Benitez.
Hence Wenger's vindication of his captain. "[William] Gallas's leadership qualities are outstanding, even if on that occasion he used his commitment in the wrong way," he reflected on his compatriot's tantrums. Be in no doubt, though, that Wenger is quite capable of chastising his men behind closed doors. Frankly, he has dealt with weightier issuesand, from past experience, one suspects that talk of this being his Kevin Keegan moment is overstating the effect it will have on Arsenal's season.
But aren't all managers similarly inclined? By no means. Stuart Pearce is candour itself when it comes to his own players' ill-discipline. Gareth Southgate, too, possibly through inexperience, may be endowed with too much honesty. About the same time that Eduardo was undergoing surgery, Middlesbrough's Jérémie Aliadière was being handed the same red-card punishment as Taylor. Lady Bracknell herself could have inflicted more damage with a swipe of her handbag than when the Frenchman retaliated after Javier Mascherano seemingly grabbed at his nose. That was about the extent of it. Handbags.
A dismissal was absurd; a sending-off for only one (the visitor, strangely enough) made the decision perverse; yet curiously Southgate did not seek to defend his player. "If you raise your arms..." But it did look a trifle odd for Boro then to appeal. Yet adding another match to the three-game ban, on the basis that the appeal was "frivolous", appeared a little like bullying one of the League's lesser names.
Birmingham were possibly wise not to appeal on Taylor's behalf, despite contentions that the damage he inflicted wasn't deliberate. Of course it wasn't, but the margin between malice and such sheer negligence that it results in disregard for an opponent's health is extraordinarily narrow. Only Taylor – who, you imagine, is unlikely to be the same player again, either – will know how close he approached that line.
It may be that the abiding image of a stricken Eduardo will serve as an example to players inclined to raise their studs – an act still far too prevalent in English football, with only good fortune protecting the victims – but we won't hold our breath.
Ridiculous handball decisions do more harm than good
Law 12 of Fifa's Laws of the Game tells us a free-kick or penalty will be awarded if a player "handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penaltyarea)". What Law 12 doesn't say is that a penalty (and probably a goal) will be awarded if a player "has the ball slammed at him as fiercely as possible, usually from close quarters, and his arms just happen to not be adjacent to his sides".
Yet you would think that was how the law should be inter-preted from the protestations of fans – which is fine, that's what they do – try to influence matters – but, more perturbingly, from the reaction of officials, including our leading referees and assistants, who, under pressure from crowds and players, continue to make decisions which counter natural justice and the rationale behind that element of Law 12 when it was written all those years ago.
So do too many TV commentators and pundits, who attempt to enliven an otherwise tedious offering by exclaiming: "Oh, and did that hit his arm?" Mostly it is ball to hand or arm. Examples in the Premier League alone are countless, but most recently Aston Villa were awarded a penalty last Sunday against Reading (never mind that justice was done, because Gareth Barry missed). The "culprit", Kalifa Cissé, was actually trying to get his arm out of the way, if, indeed the ball actually struck it. The Carling Cup Final swung on the penalty for handball awarded contentiously against Chelsea's Wayne Bridge.
Perhaps it's the guidance offered to officials. According to the former Premier League referee David Elleray, the referee's interpretation depends on whether the hand or arm was in an "unnatural" position at the point of contact. But what is "unnatural?" The arms are balancing aids, and defending players are reacting in a split second. Just a thought: perhaps Law 12 should state that it is an offence if the player "handles the ball to gain, or seek to gain, an advantage". Anyone else prepared to put their hand up to that?Reuse content