These cheap shots must be stopped - footballers are endangering the careers of their peers by needlessly pushing them

COMMENT: A few recent high profile incidents have highlighted an issue that must be dealt with

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The Independent Football

Gary Cahill missed the European Championships, Mathieu Debuchy is sidelined for three months, and Leighton Baines got lucky.

The common denominator? All received a cowardly shove in the back. Cahill was pushed by Dries Mertens into Joe Hart during England’s Euro 2012 warm-up against Belgium. Cahill fractured his jaw and missed the finals. Debuchy was pushed by Marko Arnautovic onto the apron at the Emirates 11 minutes into Arsenal’s match against Stoke on Sunday. He suffered a dislocated shoulder and is unlikely to play again until April.

Baines was more fortunate. He was shoved towards the hoardings at Upton Park by Morgan Amalfitano during Everton’s FA Cup tie against West Ham on Tuesday night. He suffered grazed knees sliding across the gravel surround but, fortunately, no worse.

These cheap shots need to be stopped. A player pushed in the back in this way cannot anticipate the challenge and prepare for it. The game is played at great pace and it does not take much of a nudge to send an opponent careering towards danger. He could go crashing into a team-mate, opponent, or goalpost, or, especially on tight English grounds, the hoardings. In the days when they were a piece of plywood that was less of a problem, now they are very solid electronic units. There are also often photographers - with all their sharp-angled equipment - close to the pitch. Andros Townsend crashed into a photographer at White Hart Lane last season, injuring both.

It was an awareness of this risk that led to the mass brawl at Bradford City last night. Millwall’s Alan Dunne pushed James Hanson into the hoardings sparking a confrontation involving players and staff of both teams in the FA Cup replay. City manager Phil Parkinson, who was sent to the stands for his participation, said: “The lad Dunne has pushed Hanson into the advertising boards and  thought it was a dangerous challenge because there is a wall just behind there.”

Dunne was cautioned, though that may have been for his part in the melee. No action was taken against Arnautovic and Almalfitano. Mertens was booked but Joleon Lescott, Cahill’s centre-half partner that day, thought his sanction was lenient. Lescott tweeted: 'Gutted to hear Gaz is ruled out. The challenge that caused it was more reckless and dangerous than most 2 footed tackles so why only yellow.'

Mertens himself tweeted: 'I sincerely apologize [sic] for the harm I've cost to Cahill. When in the heat of the moment, you often don't think about the consequences. My thoughts go out to him and I hope he recovers well!' He added: 'It was an accident. It was unintentional. He (Cahill) blocked me off and he hit his head (on Hart's shoulder). But there was no malice in what I did.”

Arnautovic was also apologetic reportedly tweeting: ‘Sorry Mathieu Debuchy, I didn’t intent [sic] to hurt you mate. Get well soon!!’

While neither player intended the other to suffer serious injury, the push looks intentional, and once committed the consequences are in the lap of the Gods. It is an act of pure frustration as there is no chance of gaining possession. The game’s authorities, including the Professional Footballers’ Association - for this is members endangering the livelihood of other members - need to send out a message that pushing players in such circumstances will not be permitted. A few red and yellow cards should do the trick.