IAN LADYMAN: Timing is the difference between a good and bad tackle

IAN LADYMAN: Muddled interpretation of tackling is making fools of us all… Solly March’s brilliant challenge on Trezeguet demonstrated that timing is key

  • Aston Villa were initially awarded a late penalty after Trezeguet had gone down
  • However, Michael Oliver overturned his decision to penalise Solly March’s tackle
  • It is impossible to take the ball and none of the man when tackling an opponent
  • The interpretation of football’s rules is now so skewed with recent rule changes 

The interpretation of football’s rules has become so skewed that even the clever people are getting confused.

On Saturday afternoon on BT Sport, Martin Keown was agitated that Aston Villa’s late penalty against Brighton had been overturned by VAR.

‘That is unbelievable,’ said Keown.

Solly March’s challenge on Trezeguet was initially given as a penalty before being overturned

The art is to tackle as cleanly and fairly as possible and that is what March did at Villa Park

Once a defender for Arsenal and England, Keown knew how to tackle and is now one of the game’s shrewdest and most conscientious analysts.

That he should get this so wrong tells us much. Football baffles us all these days.

The facts of the incident are clear. Villa’s Trezeguet received a pass from Jack Grealish and turned back inside Solly March, throwing the Brighton player off balance.

March had a split-second choice to make. Let Trezeguet go unchallenged and the Egyptian would have a clear shot on goal. Attempt to tackle and there was a chance he would foul him.

These are instinctive decisions that defenders make all the time. It is what they are paid to do.

On this occasion, with victory on the line, March went for the tackle and made it. The touch of his right foot on the ball was clear and, as it ricocheted away towards Brighton team-mate Yves Bissouma, Trezeguet fell uninjured under the contact from March’s follow through.

It is what we used to call a good tackle, but in recent years the boundaries have become strangely blurred, even though the laws on tackling are quite simple.

Section 12 — Fouls and Misconduct — covers it and is clear when it says referees must consider challenges to have been ‘careless’, ‘reckless’ or using ‘excessive force’ in order to penalise.

This is why a player who slides in at 100mph and clatters an opponent to the floor with studs raised cannot claim in defence to have ‘got the ball first’. That does not matter in the modern game and quite right.

The rules are designed in part to ensure the safety of the player in possession. We do not want to go back to the 1970s.

Declan Rice was unfairly deemed to have fouled Kevin De Bruyne when playing for England

But the interpretation of this rule has now become flawed.

Often now we see players make perfectly well-timed and clever tackles, only to be penalised for touching an opponent with a trail leg or follow through.

Declan Rice suffered in this way when being penalised for a fair tackle on Kevin De Bruyne in the recent England match in Belgium.

Anyone who has played the game at any level knows it is almost impossible to tackle an opponent without making contact with him or her at some stage. The art is to tackle as cleanly and fairly as possible. That is what March did at Villa Park on Saturday.

After the game another TV pundit, Steve Sidwell, said the Brighton player had ‘dangled his leg’. No he hadn’t.

He made a tackle while off balance, which is something else entirely. It was good defending and certainly was not careless, reckless or excessively forceful.

Conor Gallagher was at the centre of two match-defining moments while playing Man United

Later at Old Trafford there was a similar incident as Bruno Fernandes tackled West Brom’s Conor Gallagher.

That one was harder to call as it’s possible that the Portugal player may just have made contact with Gallagher’s shin before hooking the ball away. 

More confusing was why midfielder Fred’s clear shove on Gallagher was not penalised in the build-up to United’s decisive penalty a little while later.

There will always be tight calls. The margins are often fine. But tackling remains as important to the game as dribbling and shooting. With that in mind, it should be protected.

Solly March won the game for Brighton with that tackle on Saturday. There was once a time when Martin Keown would have been proud of it.

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