Sunday, February 24, 2008

Blues versus Arsenal

By now most people will be aware of the horrific injury sustained by Arsenal striker Eduardo in the third minute of their 2-2 draw at Blues yesterday. That the injury was horrific cannot be stressed enough, but the knee-jerk reaction from the Arsenal manager is calling for a life ban on Blues' Martin Taylor has to be the most irresponsible response I've ever come across. Wenger has since retracted his comments (minus the apology, of course), blaming the "heat of the moment" for them.

Although the press and pundits alike leapt to Taylor's defence - "In the cold light of day, Arsene Wenger's comments are more reckless than Martin Taylor's tackle", raged Garth Crooks on Final Score last night - the damage has been done, and Taylor has already been subject to death threats via various Internet message boards.

The problem was compounded by Sky's initial refusal to show replays of the incident - while it was correct in light of Eduardo's injury, it ended up fuelling the fire that somehow Taylor had maliciously gone to deliberately hurt the player.

Let me stress: considering the tackle and outcome, "Tiny" Taylor was correctly sent off. He didn't dispute the decision, and was probably the second most shocked person on the pitch at what his tackle did to Eduardo. He was described as "distraught" by manager Alex McLeish afterwards, but this was not the actions of a man who went into deliberately hurt someone (as Wenger insinuated) and then realised the folly of his actions.

Don't believe me? Ex-Blues boss Steve Bruce said this on seeing the incident: "Martin Taylor is the biggest, gentlest man. There will be nobody more upset and sickened than him, there is not a bad bone in his body.

"He would never, ever do anything malicious. He has mis-timed the tackle, and I've seen it."

Taylor's ex-boss at Blackburn, Graham Souness, also leapt to his defence: "Tiny is not malicious in any shape or form. He just doesn't have that in his nature. He is anything but an aggressive centre-half.

"When he was at Blackburn his team-mates tried to bring the aggression out of him. They cut his hair to make him look tougher but he just didn't have that nasty streak. Martin's problem was that he had a great physique for a centre half but had the technique of a midfielder. We were always trying to get him to be more aggressive."

If you think these are comments conveniently being made in hindsight, click here to see how Souness pleaded with Taylor to be more of a "bully" when he was centre half at Blackburn. This is a central defender who infuriates Blues fans for being "too soft" and getting easily knocked off the ball - in his 234 appearances in football (all of which have been played in the top two tiers of the English league), he has just six yellows and two red cards to his name. It's why - while we should all be thinking of Eduardo - I'm leaping to the defence of my club's player. But then if Wenger even knew who Taylor was (it's interested he couldn't tell you his name during the post-match press conference), he'd never have made those comments in the first place.

As for Arsenal only ever being victims of bad tackles, I think both Manchester United and Chelsea might have a different take on events. The horrible irony here is that there are plenty of malicious tackles going on in the football league every single week, yet it's a genuine mistimed challenge that ends up resulting in the horrific injury that could end a player's career.

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