Rise of the two-footed tackle damages the game at all levels

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The Independent Football

For Jamie Carragher yesterday there was only sympathy as he prepared for months of painful rehabilitation. It was, however, impossible to feel the same about the response of his manager, Gérard Houllier, to the tackle which caused Carragher's broken leg.

Houllier angrily condemned Lucas Neill's two-footed lunge as "cowardly". It was understandable, but contrasted uneasily with his regular defence of similar challenges by Steven Gerrard. George Boateng, Gary Naysmith and, this season, Jlloyd Samuel and Olof Mellberg have all been victim to what Houllier is more likely to describe as over-exuberance or competitiveness when Gerrard commits them.

Not that Houllier is alone. Two-footed tackles, which launch 13-stone of highly-toned muscle into the air, are among the most dangerous in the game, but few managers will criticise their own players for leaping into them. They prefer to blame the referee if he sends off the miscreant. So, too, do the former professionals now serving as television pundits. Recently, when Géremi and Scott Parker were both dismissed for two-footed tackles on the same day, the old pros criticised the officials.

The lack of censure within the game has resulted in this tackle becoming increasingly prevalent at the top level. This is bad enough when it results in injury to players such as Carragher but, while their careers are either interrupted or jeopardised, they are already wealthy, highly-insured men with access to expert medical help. More worrying is the effect on schools and parks football, where the behavioural patterns of the Premiership are aped. Carragher's injury was actually rare because in the professional game players have the experience to anticipate and avoid the flying boots. This is not the case lower down where victims are left to struggle into work on crutches in between long waits in casualty.

While no-one suggests Gerrard, Neill or Géremi tackle with malice aforethought, it is noticeable that they usually have enough self-control to restrict themselves to tackling with one foot when playing in Europe or for their countries. But in the English game the canard that football "is a man's game" remains dominant and is responsible for a physicality which thrives at the expense of technique.

As Chris Perry said of the skills of Manchester United's Christiano Ronaldo after playing for Charlton Athletic against him on Saturday: "Other players have come from foreign countries and started off like that ­ they tend to get it knocked out of them eventually."

That comment does not exactly fill the English heart with pride. One would like to think that, instead of Ronaldo being kicked into passing rather than dribbling, Carragher's injury will prompt a change in attitudes. Players' limbs are their livelihood. If nothing else, the thought of him in plaster should provide a salutary reminder to the professionals of the danger of the two-footed tackle.

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