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25th Mar 2017

Why ‘not-that-kind-of-player’ is pointless to Seamus Coleman until football acts on recklessless

These horrific career-threatening injuries will become more prevalent unless action is taken.

Wayne Farry

“He’s not that kind of player.”

Sitting in his hospital bed today, Seamus Coleman will be the recipient of hundreds of messages from well-wishers, expressing sympathy for his misfortune and hopes for a speedy recovery.

There will be contact from those who have suffered – and recovered from – similar injuries throughout their careers, and there will likely be messages from players who have caused such injuries themselves.

Few if any of these messages will do anything to comfort a man who over time has become Ireland’s best player and one of the most consistent full-backs in English and possibly even European football.

Some of the talking points from last night’s events will almost certainly anger the Donegal native, none more so than suggestions that Neil Taylor – the man whose recklessness broke Coleman’s leg – is not that kind of player.

“Not that kind of player” – a phrase so overused and misused to be rendered utterly meaningless. It gets rolled out each and every time an incident such as this occurs, lavishing the perpetrator with the sort of praise usually reserved for a white American who has murdered his own family. He’s not that kind of guy.

What this cliched phrase always does – aside from not make sense in any way – is miss the point entirely.

It’s exceptionally easy, in football especially, to view everything in a vacuum; a series of isolated incidents linked merely by the fact that they all occurred within the confines of the game.

But nothing happens in a vacuum. My behaviour today is not an isolated sample, it is the product of more than two decades of interactions, environments and decisions.

And Neil Taylor’s tackle last night, though it took place in one moment in a single game, was the product and consequence of a culture which has been allowed to foster in football over years.

Referees, who get more criticism than they deserve despite generally doing a good job, have over time unintentionally cultivated an environment whereby punishment is handed down based on the result of an action rather than the action itself.

We saw it last night in a nutshell. Mere moments before Coleman had a year of his career taken away, Gareth Bale lunged in for a challenge on John O’Shea which was one planted foot away from ending his professional life.

Bale, clearly too talented a player to warrant scrutiny for such a tackle, received a yellow card. Why not a red? Because he didn’t break John O’Shea’s leg.

We see this everywhere in the modern game and specifically the blood and guts pantomime drama of the Premier League. Just last weekend we witnessed Coleman’s compatriot James McClean sprint with intent towards Alexis Sanchez before planting his studs into the Chilean striker’s ankle.

McClean received a yellow card and Sanchez received a compression pack to reduce the swelling. The Hawthorns crowd roared with approval at a job well done.

The Derryman’s challenge was not the worst ever seen but it serves a point: players will continue to push the boundaries of acceptability unless referees make it abundantly clear that it’s not acceptable.

Did Alexis Sanchez suffer a serious injury? No. Was that due to any considered approach taken by McClean? No, as in most of these situations, it was dumb luck.

No one questions the difficulty involved with being a top-flight referee. The game is getting faster, stronger and more intense every day and their job is harder for it. But officials cannot be allowed to continue refereeing in such a reactive way, especially when it comes to an aspect of the sport over which they have utter control.

Saying that, they are not alone in culpability. Pundits on television, radio and other forms of media are equally guilty. They admonish officials who send off an “overenthusiastic” player and accuse them of neutering the game.

But they’re not in charge, and they are not responsible for the well-being of the players.

It may sound like wishful thinking but there is a blueprint for making such changes in football. Younger people may not remember this but there was a time when tackles from behind were permitted and even encouraged by managers of a certain ilk.

For too long authorities absolved themselves of responsibility and the result was broken legs, twisted ligaments and careers ended prematurely.

Eventually, people got sick of it. People got sick of seeing world class players like Marco van Basten hang up their boots at a criminally young age because footballers that weren’t that kind of player were allowed to be.

Rules were implemented, red cards were handed out and over time, the practice of tackling from behind was phased out of the game.

Such initiative is now required by modern officials and rule makers to face up to a problem which has been allowed to fester for far too long, one which is all too often robbing footballers of the freedom to play.

If it doesn’t happen, no worries. Neil Taylor isn’t that kind of player anyway.