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Media reaction to Aaron Ramsey’s injury

There’s been a huge reaction to Aaron Ramsey’s injury in the media. The majority of people  – particularly the former players – seem to dismiss the tackle as an unfortunate accident that is just part of football. They just shrug, lament Aaron Ramsey’s condition, point out that Ryan Shawcross is a nice lad/honest/not malicious (delete as appropriate) and then look to move on without any reflection on why we’re seeing more of these serious injuries.

Tony Cascarino did nothing to enhance his reputation as one of the game’s deep thinkers by claiming that Shawcross shouldn’t even have been sent off:

“There’s a difference between an awful injury and an awful challenge. Ryan Shawcross’s tackle on Aaron Ramsey was mistimed but not malicious — the same as Martin Taylor’s on Eduardo da Silva two years ago. Let’s not hang the Stoke City defender out to dry because poor Ramsey was simply unlucky. I don’t even think the tackle deserved a red.”

Stan Collymore took a different angle, deciding to attack Arsene Wenger by declaring the Arsenal manager’s post-match comments to be “completely out of order” and describing Wenger and anyone else who shared his view that another serious injury to an Arsenal player wasn’t simply a coincidence as “deluded”. There’s even a touch of xenophobia as Collymore suggests that if “Wenger wants to make football almost a non-contact [sport] that is up to him but it won’t happen in England” which makes him “question how suited Arsenal’s boss is to English football.” Then he added, “but if he doesn’t like English working conditions, whereby players are physical and try to win the ball, then maybe he should disappear to La Liga or Serie A.”

These foreigners coming over here with their foreign ideas! If they don’t like it, they don’t have to live here, eh Stan?

Alan Hansen used his Telegraph column to give his view of the tackle itself:

I have watched the Shawcross challenge on Ramsey half-a-dozen times and my objective view is that it was clumsy rather than malicious… Shawcross didn’t go over the top, he came in from the side, and it wasn’t one of those terrible, late tackles that can prove so dangerous.

Is there anyone who is actually suggesting that Shawcross was malicious? I haven’t seen anyone claim that. Perhaps Hansen hadn’t seen the view of the tackle from behind Shawcross at ground level, but it clearly showed that Shawcross did come over the top of the ball and it’s ridiculous to claim that Shawcross wasn’t late. Hansen makes it sound as if they both kicked the ball at the same time, much like Ashley Cole’s challenge with Landon Donovan in which Cole broke his foot a few weeks ago. That’s just isn’t true. Shawcross didn’t touch the ball at all because it was gone by the time he made contact with Ramsey.

Just about the only ex-players who have expressed anything other than the ‘not malicious, he’s an honest lad’ argument have connections to Arsenal or know Aaron Ramsey personally. Bob Wilson felt that Shawcross’s tackle was “born out of most managers and coaches facing Arsenal, plus media pundits and even ex-players, instructing their players to get in their faces. Opposing players are told to shake them up, get in their faces, tackle hard, bully them. I would defy coaches and managers to deny that is the case. The tackle by Ryan Shawcross was at best mistimed, at worst reckless and desperate.”

Thankfully, there are a lot of football writers who are not ex-pros, and there’s a lot more variety in their views.

The Independent’s Sam Wallace offers a more nuanced and much better-written shrug of the shoulders, as he laments the damage done to Aaron Ramsey’s career, but still seems primarily concerned with the damage Arsene Wenger may have done to Ryan Shawcross’s reputation with his post-match comments:

“When Arsène Wenger describes Ryan Shawcross’s challenge on Ramsey as “horrendous” and “unacceptable” he has to realise that, coming from someone of his status, those words have a lasting effect on the reputation of a young player like Shawcross … The basic question that we have to confront is whether, from the evidence available, Shawcross set out to hurt Ramsey in that split-second when both of them challenged for the ball. A personal view is that he did not and that Shawcross does not deserve to be stigmatised by Wenger.”

In the Daily Mail, Martin Samuel leans towards Arsene Wenger’s point of view [Do NOT click on that link if you are at all squeamish], pointing out that the comments that Stoke’s assistant manager made in 2007 when Shawcross broke Franny Jeffers’ leg bear a striking resemblance to the platitudes that we’ve heard from Stoke in the aftermath of Ramsey’s injury.

Samuel then goes on to write what, for me, is the most insightful comment that I’ve seen on the incident:

Yet malicious intent – the motivation to actually cause serious injury – is rare in football … Shawcross did not tackle Ramsey like that. He did however arrive late and with sufficient abandon to lose any chance of controlling the consequences. The greatest sickness in English football is that we do not recognise the wrong in that.

In the Telegraph, Kevin Garside makes much the same point I made on Sunday morning when he links the Shawcross tackle to the way we’ve been teaching our kids to play for decades:

You can hear it up and down the land: “Get stuck in”, “Let him know you are there”. This brainless urging corrupts in infancy and contributes to an attitude that fails in adulthood to distinguish between legitimate aggression and thuggery. The legacy of this lunacy is propped up in a hospital bed this morning contemplating an uncertain future. One hopes Aaron Ramsey makes a full recovery, for his and Shawcross’s sake.

There are also some intriguing viewpoints from foreign writers. Guillem Balague expressed surprise at  British players feeling the need to make such ferocious challenges, especially when they aren’t even particularly effective:

“Look at this season’s Champions League statistics: in the top fifty players in terms of tackles won this season, there is not one Englishman. In other words, British football may be encouraging young players to go flying in, but they’re not coming out with the ball. What’s the point in a player going to ground in the middle of the pitch, you’ve got a gap where he should have been and, more often than not, a booking. Meanwhile, these soft foreigners – ‘afraid to get their shorts dirty’ – are winning the ball. Launching yourself around is seen as a means to an end, but what’s the justification when there is no end product ?”

Balague also draws an interesting analogy with dangerous driving:

“Shawcross may not have meant it, but like so many tackles flying around in the Premier League, being committed doesn’t excuse it – and when a player has no control over the consequences, then he shouldn’t be doing it. The repeated argument that it wouldn’t have even been a yellow if Ramsey’s leg had not snapped in two is alarming. Is driving at 100 mph past a playground only considered reckless if I run someone over?”

I was also struck by something that the German writer Raphael Honigstein said on The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast on Monday (at around the 9mins 50sec mark):

“The problem is that what happens is that people take a charitable view and say that it wasn’t intentional and he obviously didn’t try to break the leg intentionally and that absolves him of any guilt. But the truth of the matter is that you owe a duty of care to your fellow professional on the pitch and you can’t go into tackles recklessly endangering his safety”

What strikes me the most about everything I’ve read since the game last Saturday is that there seems to be a belief (which is particularly prevalent among ex-pros) that as long as Shawcross didn’t make the challenge with any malicious intent, then the resultant injury is not his fault; it is just unfortunate for Aaron Ramsey that he came off worst. Most of them have a complete inability to accept that even if a tackle isn’t malicious it can still be reckless, dangerous and unacceptable.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that a group of people not exactly known for their intellect don’t have the analytical skills or the insight to imagine the game as anything other than what it was when they played it. But every sport moves on. Just because broken legs from tackles like this were common in their day, does that mean that the game should always stay the same? Perhaps it should stay the same, but none of the old pros are prepared to even spend a moment pondering that question. Instead, they just attack anyone else who does want to ask questions, as Stan Collymore demonstrated with his warning to Arsene Wenger that he shouldn’t try to change English football. I think Martin Samuel should be applauded for pointing out that “the greatest sickness in English football is that we do not recognise the wrong in that.”


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