After watching the recent brutal derby match between Liverpool and Everton, I was astounded by some of the post-match comments by some of the players.
Either they were trying to play down the significance of several disgusting tackles, or more worryingly, they actually believe that such tackles are acceptable. Granted, a derby needs to be played with passion and commitment, without this the magic and history surrounding such a game would be lost.
However, the players have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the game, and a match filled with horrific challenges all started with Marouane Fellaini’s inexcusable kick to head of Dirk Kuyt, which resulted in a nasty cut to Kuyt’s left cheek. Steven Pienaar’s potential leg-breaker on Javier Mascherano followed just after half an hour, and then came the two-footed lunge by Liverpool’s central defender, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, on Fellaini.
Further mentions can be given to Fellaini’s stamp on Kyrgiakos and even Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard got in on the act with a clumsy and unnecessary charge into the back of Pienaar when he was lying injured on the ground.
Such tackles should surely be met with widespread condemnation, not applauded. It was Gerrard himself who praised the performance of both teams throughout the match in his post match interview.
When questioned on whether he saw anything that was across the line in terms of tackling, Gerrard responded with, “that’s what derbies are all about – passion, commitment, fight – and we beat a very good Everton side today with ten men.” On being further quizzed on the level of discipline throughout the match he said, “I thought the referee was superb, he let tackles go. That’s what derbies are about. That’s what the fans pay good money for, to come and see commitment from both sides… there were some mistimed tackles but we’re not complaining and I don’t think Everton will.”
Admittedly, it is not entirely up to the players to act responsibly on the field. The referee’s have a large say in on-field conduct and Martin Atkinson, as Gerrard mentioned, allowed far too many tackles to go unpunished, not even producing a yellow card until after half an hour. This set a precedent for the rest of the match, with the players taking advantage of Atkinson’s unwillingness to punish repeated offences.
But just putting the tackling to one side, what about the simulation, or diving if you like, from both sides? First it was Everton’s new loan-signing, Landon Donovan, going down too easy to win a free-kick in a good position, from which Leighton Baines managed to test Pepe Reina. Then Gerrard followed the lead of Donovan and came close to opening the scoring, curling the resulting free-kick against the Everton crossbar. It was blatant to see on replays, but referee’s do not have such a luxury and it was making Atkinson’s day even more difficult.
The game itself lacked the usual quality associated with the English Premier League, but was still an exciting spectacle due to the enthusiasm and determination of both sides. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to see experienced players resort to such dirty and malicious tackles in an attempt to win the match.
Although it was a derby, there needs to be more done to protect players from harm, with both referee Martin Atkinson and the players themselves to blame for some incidents which, on another day, could have resulted in several serious injuries.