We’ve all seen the tackle. We’ve all seen the way that Massadio Haïdara collapses after having a grown man fly into his leg, studs first. We’ve all heard the calls for him to be banned for five, six or seven games after the referee, Mark Halsey’s, view of the incident was blocked, preventing him from seeing the tackle.
Probably though, we’ve seen the picture of the incident more than the full-speed video of it. This is a problem. It’s a problem because on the still image that has widely been used the ball is on the floor, making it seem like, instead of going for the ball, McManaman missed the ball by a good few feet before embedding his studs in Haïdara’s leg.
It may shock some of you to be told that this is not the case, McManaman did actually get a touch on the ball; a slight touch, but enough to divert the ball away from the Newcastle player. As the old footballing cliché goes, ‘the ball was there to be won’. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a bad challenge, it was, but it’s not as if the ball had been played along the floor and the 21 year-old had flown at waist-height, totally ignoring where the ball was.
Had I been playing in that match, I would have gone for the ball in exactly the same way that McManaman had, with the slight alteration that I would have pointed my foot rather than going in studs first. It’s awful that Haïdara could potentially have a career-threatening injury but, you know what, in football, and in other sports, those things just happen.
The fact that Dave Whelan came out in defence of his club’s player is important. You can accuse him of being biased, but Whelan’s career was ruined by a broken leg in the 1960 FA Cup final, if anyone knows about career-threatening injuries, he does. Let me repeat again, McManaman did actually get the ball.
The point of this article is not to say that McManaman shouldn’t have been sent off, because he should have been, or that the FA are right not to retrospectively charge him; despite the technicality, they should. It’s to say that the reaction to McManaman’s ‘enthusiastic’ tackle is totally hypocritical when you look at what is said any other week of the year in football.
‘Tackling has been taken out of the modern game’ and phrases like it are heard regularly, probably every other week if you counted. Pundits, fans and managers lament the fact that ‘you just can’t tackle anymore’ and say that the game has been made too soft, dreaming fondly of the days when you could put in a solid tackle. The days when you could tackle a player to, euphemistically, ‘let him know you’re there’ are viewed with as much fondness as childhood Christmas days, Paul Gascoigne’s heyday and the days when Mourinho managed in the Premier League.
And yet, McManaman’s tackle was talked about as if it was one of the worst things the game had ever seen. I will repeat again, because I genuinely think people are forgetting this, he did actually get the ball. The tackle cannot even be compared to the likes of Shawcross on Ramsey and Taylor on Eduardo because they were poor tackles with the defenders going in recklessly. Those were still mistakes but in both of those tackles the ball was on the ground and the player dived over the ball with all their weight behind them. McManaman did not dive over the ball, his momentum carried him into Haïdara after he got the ball – it is a totally different case from what happened to Ramsey or Eduardo.
Look at the Nani incident from a few weeks ago. Nani flew through the air, got the ball but carried on and studded Arbeloa in the chest. Had Nani’s leg been a couple of feet lower, and happened to connect with Arbeloa’s knee and upper leg instead, we would have the same incident. Twitter was overcrowded with people saying that Nani was just trying to control the ball; that his technique was part of the game and he should not be penalised for it. McManaman’s tackle was not a ‘horror’ tackle as we have come to understand the term, it was a horrible collision, but it was not the type of tackle that should be wiped out of the game as, in 99% of cases, it does not have the same awful results.
You cannot criticise the FA for softening up the game while at the same time talking about young Callum McManaman like he is some kind of football criminal. Calling for a seven match ban for McManaman’s tackle is at the same end of the spectrum as Cuneyt Cakir sending off Nani for what he did. The fact that many fans have been calling for the first while criticising the second shows the hypocrisy which is present within the game.
Comparisons with Shawcross are not helpful. The picture where the ball is on the floor is not helpful as it misrepresents what actually happened. The McManaman tackle, and the result, was ‘one of those things’ that happens in football. If you look back to the days where strong tackling was acceptable, you will probably find that many hard tackles resulted in injuries, a fair proportion having serious effects on the careers of the ‘victims’.
I think that ten years ago, McManaman’s challenge would be considered a ‘meaty challenge’ and, while everyone would offer their sympathies to Haïdara accept that the Wigan player should be suspended, he would not be cast as the devil incarnate. The fact that people are complaining about the softness of the game and at the same time calling for a lengthy ban for McManaman is hypocritical.