The saga that is Nigel de Jong’s utter disregard for humanity just won’t go away. Nor should it. By now, unless you have been under a rock (or you are the average American sports fan), you have seen, heard, or read about Nigel de Jong’s recklessly conceived tackle on Newcastle United’s Hatem Ben Arfa. De Jong’s ghastly challenge assured Ben Arfa of a broken left leg, a swift trip to a Manchester hospital, and a premature end to his 2010-2011 season. Condemnation abounds. Even De Jong’s national team manager, Van Marwijk, decided to leave the midfielder out of the Oranje’s upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers. Nevertheless, because De Jong’s actions went unpunished — not a red card, a yellow card, or even a free-kick — FIFA regulations stand in the way of any sort of retroactive punishment.
For the fourth or fifth time in three years, the EPL and its officials are under the microscope for yet another gruesome injury – Eduardo, Aaron Ramsey, Antonio Valencia, Zamora, etc. FIFA seems primed to throw its weight around to end ‘brutality’ in football, but the truth of the matter is that much of this ‘brutality’ is happening in the FA’s jurisdiction and the FA already has the tools to stop it. This has been the case for the last few years, yet there has been no noticeable change in how conduct, such as De Jong’s, is being policed on the pitch.
Essentially, two types of players populate the most popular football league in the world: domestic players (average to great) and la crème de la crème from around the world. The former type matured within a footballing culture that places a relatively greater emphasis on physicality and toughness, which is reflected in the way the English game is officiated. For the latter group, their native footballing culture generally snubs the physical side of the sport for the skill, technique, and fluidity of the game. When juxtaposed in the extreme (the average British players up against the skilled, technical, or ‘sexy’ player), this contrast in footballing styles creates an environment that invites increasingly reckless challenges unless match officials take charge of the game.
If, at some point, it should become clear that such enforcement is not going to make its way into the English game, then managers, for the sake of their players’ health, will have to find creative solutions. I propose that a page be taken from the great North American sport of ice hockey: Bring in the enforcers.
Bring in the Tie Domis, the George Laraques, the Bob Proberts of football. If it was good enough for Gretzky, why not for Tevez, Fabregas, and Berbatov. Of course, this is not to be mistaken for an endorsement of violence in football. On the contrary, it is a recommendation that managers and players take matters of deterrence into their own hands as last resort. Put at least one man on every EPL roster, whose presence alone makes other players think twice about rash, desperate tackles.
Basically, the thought is this: You’ll be less likely to go studs up on your opponent when you know there is a guy on his bench who gets paid to see red.