by Daisy Cutter
Moments after Laurent Koscielny prematurely exited the Emirates action yesterday a friend turned to me and suggested that the Manchester City players would be wise to stay on their feet for the duration of the game to deny the referee the slightest opportunity to ‘even things up’.
The decision to send Koscielny off so early in the encounter was a right but brave call but no matter how good the official – and Mike Dean is up there with the very best of them – it is human nature to then subconsciously seek parity amidst the outraged howls from three quarters of the ground. We’ve all seen this occur more times that we probably care to recall.
A few minutes on and Vincent Kompany placed a misjudged pass that was easily intercepted by an Arsenal player. The City captain immediately atoned for his mistake by stepping in and making a superb challenge.
I turned to my friend…
“He’s been doing that all season – bad decision-making followed by a worldy tackle to make up for it.”
Cut to seventy minutes later: City are two goals to the good having used their man advantage maturely and despite admirable resolve from the Gunners the contest is all but decided. In another desperate probe Jack Wilshere over-ran the ball into the City rearguard and lost his balance in the process, his momentum hurtling him forward. With the ball there clearly to be won Kompany then committed to an incident that perfectly combined our earlier exchanges and created a drama that prompted someone on Twitter to immediately post “If that is a red then football is dead”.
In going to ground and making the challenge on Wilshere the classy Belgium again showed poor decision-making by giving Dean the perfect chance to ‘even things up’ numerically. But it was also a worldy tackle from arguably the best exponent of the art in the Premier League. It was perfectly timed and cleaner than the hands of a surgeon with OCD. With the ball there to be won he cleared it with one foot, the other safely esconced behind him. He took only the ball.
When the red card was brandished to the north London sky Wilshere looked momentarily stunned, wrongly believing that it was he who was being punished. As farcical a verdict that would be who could blame him? After all it was the Arsenal man who had lost control and collided at speed into his opponent, condemning him to writhe in agony on the turf.
Kompany however was too preoccupied by psychological distress to be in physical pain for long. Because he knew. He knew as soon as the challenge was made and the parp of the whistle rang out what fate awaited him. He knew because last January the same ridiculous injustice befell him in the all-Manchester FA Cup tie at the Etihad when he blocked a Nani charge by sitting down (so as not to dive) and taking the ball cleanly then too. Only to see a finger pointing to the tunnel and general disbelief all around.
On that occasion it led to supporters suddenly becoming experts on the rules of the game, quoting extracts from Law 12 to both defend and reproach Kompany. ‘Ah but it was two footed and strictly speaking under Law 12…’ ‘Yes but there was no violent intent’ came the reply from those who preferred common sense to pedantry.
Whatever the opinion the majority view was that Law 12 was flawed and open to farce. It needed amending – at the very least tweaking – to prevent such lunacy occurring again.
And yet here we are once more, the legal nit-pickers out in force, with nothing changed and millions of viewers simultaneously applauding a fair and decent tackle only to then despair at the stupidity of the modern game.
‘Yes but a couple of frames clearly show him with two feet off the ground’
‘So what is that worth in comparison to what is in front of your f***ing face?’
How appropriate it is that it’s Kompany – a master of the art of tackling and a player who transcends the bias of rival supporters in possessing a reputation for fairness and decency – who has involuntarily become the standard bearer in this, twice holding up a mirror to one of the game’s major failings.
With his team 2-0 up, a man up, and coasting, it was poor decision-making that propelled Vincent Kompany into obtaining possession so vigorously. But the judgements that followed pale his error into insignificance and are slowly killing the game.