Saturday lunchtime’s match looked, on paper, like a run of the mill Arsenal vs The Rest Premier League fixture. With Birmingham sitting just above the relegation places, it looked like a comfortable three points for the league leaders, but what followed was an incident that could have long term ramifications for The Gunners and, more seriously, has thrown the entire career of one of their young players into doubt. You have, by now, almost certainly seen Martin Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo Da Silva. Upon first viewing, it looks like a typical clumsy Premier League tackle. A second or two late, catching him just above the ankle. First impressions, however, aren’t always right, and the replay highlighted Eduardo’s leg bending at a sickeningly unnatural angle. Questions over whether he’ll be able to play for his adoptive home country, Croatia, at Euro 2008 are largely irrelevant. As time has gone in, it has become more and more apparent that the real issue is whether he’ll be able to play again at all. In the meantime, the incident has been picked to death in the media with numerous accusations and counter-accusations having been made. The rush was on to make try and make sense of an incident that, to an extent, could be put down to carelessness on the part of Taylor and merely exceptionally bad luck on the part of Eduardo, but nuanced debate isn’t exactly what the British media does best, with death threats having reportedly been issued against Taylor. As ever, a disaster has been skilfully and carefully created by the media, and the resulting feeding frenzy will supply them with at least enough copy to last the rest of this week.
First of all, then, the injury itself. Off the top of my head, I can only recall seeing two legs broken this badly before, and both David Busst and Luc Nilis had their careers ended by the breaks in question. Reports today seem to be giving an expected time out for Eduardo to be somewhere between nine and twelve months, but it strikes me that is is exceptionally early for anyone to be able to tell how long it is going to take for his leg to heal. A statement on the official Arsenal website today said, “It is hoped that Eduardo will be running again in six months time and making a full recovery after nine months”. The key word there is “hoped”. It is considerably too early to be able to tell. My personal conviction is that he will be very lucky if he plays again, but he does have his age (he’s relatively young, and this makes a huge difference in such matters) and the near-limitless financial resources of Arsenal FC coupled with major advances in the treatment of such injuries. Late on Saturday afternoon, there were several online articles questioning the effect that this injury would have on the rest of Arsenal’s season, considering the effect that his partnership with Emmanuel Adebayor has had on Premier League defences this season, but these seem to have subsided somewhat as the severity of what happened sank in with editors. We did end up, however, with the peculiar situation of Sky Sports deciding that it was all too grisly to show again, whilst on “Match Of The Day” on Saturday night, it was shown from two all-new camera angles.
So, where do we apportion blame here, and to what extent? Well, some have chosen to go with a fairly standard demonisation of Martin Taylor (one suspects that such a crass headline as “Eduardo’s Executioner” are either a deliberate ploy to boost web traffic or merely written by somebody almost incomprehensibly stupid – either way, I can only presume that Karmen Hovat would be delighted if anything serious were to happen to Taylor now), but the debate is largely a specious one. It is, I suspect, ridiculous to assume that Taylor meant to cause the amount of damage to Eduardo that he did. Quite asides from any other considerations, there is nothing in Taylor’s career history to indicate that this was anything other than an accident – one red card in eight and a half years doesn’t indicate a player with the mentality of, say, Vinnie Jones or Roy Keane. Football is awash with unconvincing claims of innocence emanating from the mouths of managers (and Alex MacLeish would have been better advised to keep his trap shut rather than coming out with comments such as, “some people might argue Taylor only deserved a yellow”), and Arsene Wenger’s comments were, at least initially, little more helpful. Taylor may well get away with a standard three match ban, though the odds are now more likely to be in favour of a lengthier ban, until the end of the season.
In the cold light of day, the unpalatable truth of the matter is that this tackle could have happened on more or less any Saturday afternoon this season. Partly, the ever increasing pace of the game is to blame. The quickest players are now quicker and more athletic than ever. On a cold Saturday lunchtime, the reactions of the slower players are likely to be even lower. Put a player against Eduardo up against a player like Taylor ten minutes into a lunchtime kick-off, and there’s every possibility that he will be that crucial second or two late for the tackle. The culture of the English game may also be to blame. There is a long (and unwelcome) tradition of defenders giving strikers a kick early on “to let them know that they’re there”. This is, of course, a thinly-veiled euphemism for outright intimidation and, when the sort of attitude behind it clashes with the high-speed Premier League game, the possibility of this sort of thing happening increases. The one thing that you can guarantee will not happen is an alteration to the tempo of the game. The high speed of the Premier League is one of the biggest attractions to that all-important “global audience”. It’ll be a cold day in hell before the Premier League starts issuing edicts to managers telling them to instruct players to “calm it down a bit”.
To an extent, both players here are victims. Eduardo, who we obviously wish all the best to, now has to hope for a degree of providence and work very, very hard if he is to play professional football again to anything like the level that he already has. Martin Taylor, as a professional footballer, has a duty of care every time he goes into a tackle, and to excuse him completely from censure would be foolish. A lengthy ban would be appropriate because his tackle was reckless beyond even the point of being dangerous. However, before leaping in, studs up, to demonise him, the media and indeed the FA should maybe take a moment to consider the pace of the modern game and the culture of “letting them know you’re there”. Making a scapegoat out of Martin Taylor would be the easy and expedient thing for the Premier League to do, and it would also satisfy the lynch mob mentality that seems to have surrounded this incident. It won’t, however, make it less likely to be repeated in the future.