Wenger is right to talk of legal action


So the Diaby-Smith incident is still rumbling on with a clearly displeased Arsene Wenger talking about legal action yesterday. He said:

I’m very upset and very disappointed with the tackle, so I will not leave this case there. I feel the only intention in the tackle was to hurt the player and I will take legal advice on how far I can go.

It’s important to make the distinction between what he’s said there and what’s being reported, which in the main is that Arsenal are going to sue Smith or Sunderland. What Wenger has said there is very different. With Diaby set to be out for up to 9 months there is a concern that he might not be the same player again as Arsene has described it as a ‘tremendously serious injury‘. Speaking about the tackle he said:

I don’t accept a desire to harm people. The challenge was wicked stupidity and the guy that harms somebody else must be punished. I want justice.

As I said yesterday the more I look at the incident the more I’m convinced that Smith went for the man and not the ball. Look at this picture or this clip – he’s looking at the man, not the ball – which is long gone. I also said yesterday that I don’t believe he meant to hurt him the way he did but those are the consequences of reckless actions sometimes. I remember when I was in school I once tripped a lad up as he was going up a flight of stairs. I only meant to trip him, I didn’t mean for him to smash his forehead open and bleed like a stuck pig but I had to accept the fact that it was my fault. There was no ball anywhere near that I could lie and say I was going for that.

I think Smith went for the man, it turned out to be far too much of the man than he might have liked, and now he and Sunderland are hiding behind crap like Diaby was too fast. Smith has had a short career so far but has a decent card count. I think Arsene Wenger believes the intention was to play the man with no intention of playing the ball which is why he’s crying foul on this one. Had it been a 50-50 and Diaby had come off injured there’d be nothing left to say because everybody accepts that these things happen in football.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. I don’t believe that Arsenal will sue the player or Sunderland Football Club but I think that for too long the FA, UEFA and FIFA have tried to paper over the damage done by serious foul play. They have consistently pussied out of addressing the issue but will issue edicts and rules about petty, stupid things all day long.

You can’t take your shirt off, you can’t run over to your fans to celebrate, you can’t kiss your badge in front of other fans, you can’t wear a t-shirt undearneath your shirt with a message to your friend who’s just had a baby, you can’t kick a ball 5 metres away when the opposition get a free kick without getting a yellow card but you can fracture and dislocate another player’s ankle and because you’ve gotten a yellow card nothing more can be done about – even if the ref has got it obviously wrong.

Arjen Robben gets Reina sent off...As an example, let’s look at the case of Liverpool goalkeeper José Reina. He put his hand on Arjen Robben’s face. You can see Robben’s reaction there. So, by the letter of the law Reina can’t raise his hands and is given a straight red card with a 3 match ban. There was nothing really ‘violent’ about his conduct, the referee maybe didn’t see it at the time and gave the card on Robben theatrics, but with video evidence it can clearly be put into perspective and perhaps the ban can be lessened. We also had José Antonio Reyes banned for 3 matches for a similar incident during an FA Cup game last season. By the letter of the law it’s a 3 match ban and let’s just say we accept that.

Where the problem lies is the fact that even if Dermot Gallagher had given Daniel Smith a red card the maximum punishment for him would have been three games. Which is the same as Reina got for nothing much. The same as Reyes got for nothing much. There is no distinction between conduct which, by the letter of the law, is a red card and dangerous, violent play in which the player deliberately intends to hurt his opponent. Dennis Bergkamp got a three match ban for stamping on the ground against Liverpool. Yes, his challenge was reckless and I’m glad he didn’t connect, but the bottom line is he didn’t touch the player and still got the same ban as he would have if he’d landed on his leg or foot.

Now, if the FA want to discourage this kind of behaviour then they really need to introduce retrospective punishments whether the referee has seen and dealt with the incident during the game or not. They should be able to look at a tape of the Diaby incident and say “The referee has got it wrong. It is our opinion that Smith’s challenge was designed to injure his opponent and he should serve a 10 match ban”.

They also need to be able to look at behaviour like Arjen Robben’s during the Reina incident and say “You were acting to get a fellow player sent off. You get a two or three match ban.”

Was it Southampton we played last year when one of their players had a little shove at the referee? He didn’t hurt the official but he got a 10 match ban. Great. Protect the referee. You can’t have players being physical with match officials. A 10 match ban is fine. I agree with that but I cannot understand why they will not accept that the system is obviously flawed when it comes to dangerous play on the pitch. How can you justify banning somebody for 10 matches for pushing a referee yet a player who tries, and maybe succeeds, in breaking another player’s leg can only get a three match ban? It’s crazy. There needs to be perspective. If what Reina did results in a three match ban, fine, but what Smith did deserves a lot more.

Arsene Wenger’s suggestion that the player be banned for as long as the player he injures is out is an interesting one. It would certainly make players think about crunching into another player’s ankle if the ball is long gone. At the moment there’s just no deterrent against serious foul play, only the morality of the players themselves and at the end of the day they’re human. Sometimes they lose their temper and get frustrated the way all of us do but a tackle like Smith’s is tantamount to one of us hitting the boss over the head with a chair or an iron bar when he gave you a bit of grief in work. You’d suffer the consequences of that in ‘real life’ so there’s no reason why footballers shouldn’t do the same.

I believe Arsene’s talk of legal action is designed to highlight the deficiencies in the system as it stands. I don’t believe there will be a lawsuit. Fans of other teams might scoff right now and talk of double-standards because no team is whiter than white but let’s hear from them when one of their players is out of the game for 9 months after a vicious assualt. Hopefully it will make the authorities and the fat cat blazer brigade do something about it sooner rather than later rather than spending time on trivial things which don’t really matter. I won’t be holding my breath though.

Ok, on to tonight’s game and there are some squad changes afoot. Gael Clichy is rested which means Ashley Cole starts. Dennis Bergkamp is also rested after 20 minutes against Sunderland and Adebayor is out with a sinus infection. Hleb, Ljungberg, Reyes and Gilberto come back. Bendtner could be on the bench.

In other news Jens Lehmann is our player of the month, just reward for his consistency and his penalty save against Villarreal. Sehr guht, Jens! Cesc Fabregas says he’ll replay the boss’s faith and show Barcelona what they’ve been missing and the Mirror reports on the CL ticket problems which I’ll cover another day, suffice to say I’ve received lots of emails about it.

Fingers crossed for another three points tonight and no injuries, horrific or otherwise.