In the eyes of the law, you can understand why Laurent Koscielny was sent-off against Everton for his reckless tackle on Enner Valencia. Considering the speed Valencia was moving at and just how high the French defender was off the ground as he dove in, there was a good chance that he could have severely injured his opponent.
But for footballing purists, the kind that believe football was at its best when it was always on the cusp of breaking out into a melee and that players’ bodies should resemble builders and boozers rather than the perfectly etched physical specimens they are today, it was seen as a peak reminder that the game has changed forever, and won’t be coming back anytime soon.
— Vivons Foot (@VivonsFoot) May 21, 2017
Tackles of such ilk had previously been seen as an integral part of the game, as they were able to rouse the crowd out of their slumber, and it could either help to sway a match in the home side’s favour, or allow the visitors to quell them. It also added to the theatrics of the entire contest, provoking grown men in the crowd to stand up and utter repugnant expletives the likes of which they’d only use in private after stubbing their big toe. More often than not the players themselves would threaten to go toe-to-toe with grandstanding antics akin to wrestlers.
For some fans, this kind of crunching tackle linked them to the game. It was something that they could, and probably would, have resorted to if they were on the football field. Plus if it was committed on a talisman or a cheeky, arrogant winger with a penchant for skills and trying to make people look foolish, it was the ultimate act of cutting someone down to size and reminding those inside the stadium of their fallibility. But the impact could have longer lasting repercussions, too.
The below tackle by Phil Neville on Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2008 not only convinced the Liverpudlian contingent of the blue variety that this Manc was now firmly part of their posse, but it inspired them to a 1-1 draw from a losing position, and instigated an upturn in fortunes for the Toffees after a drab start to the season.
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Alas, such a studs-up tackle, especially on a player already laying on the floor, just wouldn’t be acceptable anymore. And for good reason, too, as the game moves at such a ferocious pace, and players are just so big and hefty, as well as nimble with their feet, that even the most innocuous of challenges can provoke an injury. If someone goes in with the intent, not to injure or cause damage, but to show someone they’re present and willing to tussle, the damage could even be career threatening.
But all is not lost. Because while referees have rightfully become harsher at stamping out these call to arms tackles, managers have replaced brute displays of physicality with disciplined organisation. Now the Premier League is littered with stalwart teams like Burnley, Crystal Palace, Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, and Leicester City, who, when required and buoyed on by the backing of their supporters, showcase their physicality with consistently solid defensive rear-guard performances, which, at the same time as stifling the opposition, also provokes an incremental appreciation from fans. It might not be the instant rousing that came with a crunching tackle, but at least it is less violent.