There is a leg-breaking tackle in every player
POOR Seamus. Those two words have dominated conversations this week, particularly on Merseyside. Everton’s stricken right back should be lining up against Liverpool this lunchtime.
We all winced at the footage of Neil Taylor’s reckless tackle that left Coleman requiring surgery to fix his right leg, which was broken in two places. We feel deep sympathy that his season has ended in such a dreadful fashion, when he was in excellent form.
But when the game begins at 12.30pm, Coleman’s plight will be put to the back of all minds and Reds and Blues will say two more words: hit him.
Besides a goal in the first minute, the thing Liverpudlians and Evertonians want to see from their players in the opening exchanges is a challenge to — in the words of my old youth coach Hughie McAuley — ‘rattle the bones’.
It’s something I always wanted to do. To this day, I am still sent pictures on social media of collisions I had in derbies with Steven Pienaar and Phil Neville. When the tone needs to be set and the crowd need to be revved up, nothing is better than a big, shuddering tackle.
We all think the same. Remember Roy Keane’s comments before the Republic of Ireland faced Wales. He said he wanted to see his players ‘hit’ those from Wales. It reminded me of what Hughie used to tell us during our Academy days.
Yet it also shows why the comment ‘ he’s not that type of player’ is nonsense. We are all that type of player. I’d say 99 per cent of footballers have made challenges as bad as Taylor’s — or even worse — at some point in their careers. They were just lucky no bones were broken.
I say it from experience. I know what Coleman is going through, given that Lucas Neill shattered my leg at Blackburn in 2003 when he leaped into me, but I can relate in some way to Taylor’s frame of mind too.
Don’t confuse this as me trying to defend Taylor. I’m not doing that whatsoever. Everything about his lunge at Coleman was awful. It was irresponsible, he came at him from a high and wide angle and the speed of the collision meant the consequences were catastrophic.
Taylor should be devastated. Coleman faces at least six months of rehabilitation and souldestroying days in the gym. There is also no guarantee he will come back in the same form.
But I won’t vilify the Aston Villa full back. Why? I could have been in exactly the same position in March 2011 when Liverpool played Manchester United.
I’d been switched to right back towards the end of the first half, so the first thing United manager Sir Alex Ferguson did was move the speedy Nani to the left flank to attack me. I wanted to let him know I was ready for him, that he wasn’t going to pass. I wanted to rattle his bones. But my first challenge was horribly mistimed and I clattered into his shin.
I was lucky not to be sent off and luckier still that Nani was able to walk out of Anfield with ‘just’ a gash in his leg.
We beat United 3-1 that day but I wasn’t able to enjoy the victory. It didn’t feel right after what I had done and I was embarrassed when I saw the replays of the challenge. I tried to go into the United dressing room after the game to apologise, but they weren’t interested in hearing what I had to say.
I never wanted anybody to think that I deliberately hurt opponents. The vast majority of players are the same.
But do not doubt that everyone who plays professionally is capable of finding themselves in Taylor’s predicament, even those who bring fantasy and excitement to the game. That is no exaggeration. Go back to the last Merseyside derby just before Christmas. Ross Barkley was lucky he didn’t break Jordan Henderson’s ankle. And one of the worst tackles I ever saw came from Michael Owen on David Weir in a derby. Steven Gerrard was guilty of a few bad ones, too.
challenges are not confined to Merseyside, though. When I was sent off for throwing a coin into the crowd at Highbury in 2002, Arsenal’s Dennis Bergkamp — a striker of elegance and class — had just been dismissed for nearly chopping me in half with a two-footed tackle.
How about Paul Scholes? He was red- carded in the 2011 FA Cup semi- final for a studs-showing lunge that connected with Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta above the knee. But because everyone loved Scholes, his over-zealous tackling was almost trivialised. You’d hear people say, ‘ Did you see Scholesy’s tackle?’ It would be followed with a wry smile and a shake of the head.
Similar sentiments are now being voiced about Dele Alli, but the Tottenham midfielder could easily have found himself under the spotlight that is now shining on Taylor.
Alli could well have broken the leg of Gent midfielder Brecht Dejaegere during the Europa League match at Wembley in February. That challenge was every bit as wild as Taylor’s, but because the recipient did not end up in hospital, it has almost been forgotten.
It is also being claimed Alli won’t be the same kind of player if he loses that ‘edge’ from his game. I agree with that to a certain degree but to make the claim after an over- the- top challenge is ridiculous, as that adds nothing but trouble for you and your opponent.
Liverpool midfielder Xabi Alonso was always bemused by our enthusiasm for tackling, because he saw it as the last resort.
And another continental view was aired by Pep Guardiola earlier in the campaign when he said after a 4-2 defeat for Manchester City at Leicester that he was ‘not a coach for the tackle’.
Alonso and Guardiola would never have heard comments such as ‘rattle his bones’.
This, however, is part of our fabric and culture that will never change. It starts from when we first kick a ball in junior teams. On Merseyside, two questions gets asked: one is ‘can he play?’ The other is ‘can he put his foot in?’
Fans will want to see that this weekend, players putting their foot in. The first challenge at any stadium will be greeted with noisy enthusiasm. But just remember those players are walking a fine line. They are a split-second error of judgment from being in the same position as Neil Taylor.
Everyone, after all, is that kind of player.