Our man inside the game says Seamus Coleman’s universal popularity and the upsetting nature of the break make it tempting to lynch somebody but hanging Taylor won’t help the Ireland captain.
We should talk about Chris Coleman first. Did he send Wales out in the second half on Friday night to rough Ireland up a bit? I doubt it. I caught up with the RTÉ after-match discussion of the issue but I got distracted by my admiration for Irish television sticking to the EU quota system that allows up to 66% of any panel to be not very telegenic.
I don’t think Coleman is “that type of manager’ but then again I didn’t think he would confuse Friday night’s match with something called a British derby. The Empire is over Chris and Wales drank the Brexit kool-aid. It’s just us now.
I was worried about Chris anyway having read last week that when his Dad died he threw his father’s ashes and a pint of Guinness into the Liffey, which he said was ‘a tradition.’ That’s the last time I’ll have beer battered fish in Dublin.
Is Coleman that type of manager or is Neil Taylor that type of player?
I’ve played under that type of manager. At times I have been that sort of player. And “that type of…” is generally a lazy bullshit description.
I once played for a club where the manager was very big on set-pieces. Obsessive. Winning every game with a header from a corner was better than winning the league. He was a sour sort. He knew winning with a set-piece goal ate away at the other manager’s heart. Our man dished out defeats with a complementary splash of battery acid.
We beat better teams than ours by roughing them up. Nobody said, ‘let’s make sure that we injure them today boys’. Nothing so crude. In football in England there is nothing wrong with asking your players to be physical or asking them to tackle when they should stand up and try to nick the ball away.
He asked us to tackle. Hard. Why? Because teams like Arsenal don’t tackle in training. They think tackling is an abomination. They hate it. We were the anti-Arsenal. If they hated it, we tried to excel at it. In the air, we competed manically for every 50/50 header rather than letting the ball drop and trying to pick it up.
Corners were our high art. I’d be instructed to go across the near post, centre-half number one to go across the middle and centre-half number two to go across the back post. The gaffer didn’t care if we all missed the ball so long as somebody put Fabianski through the net.
The gaffer offered to waive the fine we had in place as a squad for avoidable bookings so long as the keeper ended up sitting in row R. He was so adamant that I thought we could have got away with demanding a small bonus as well.
Injuries happened of course. To us and to them. I smashed my knee trying to put a goalkeeper into the stand. Our striker dislocated his shoulder jumping so high his knee introduced itself to the side of Vincent Kompany’s face. Our goalkeeper almost lost his eye rushing to the feet of an oncoming player who liked to use football as a way of covering up his tendency to maim other human beings.
Were we dirty? Sure, but only when we were told to be. Our livelihood depended on doing what an overbearing, hectoring manager told us to do. And we did it. Sadly.
What it mainly made us was inferior. A few years ago Xabi Alonso spoke about the tackle.
“Tackling is not really a quality, it’s more something you are forced to resort to when you don’t have the ball. You would come across an interview with a lad from the youth team and they’ve asked him his age, his heroes as a kid, and his strong points. And he would say things like shooting and tackling. I can’t get into my head that footballing development would educate tackling as a quality.
“That concept is alien to our football culture in this part of the world. The tackle is the last resort of the inferior player.”
Alonso continued: “What players should aspire to is that understanding of the game. We have players like Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Santi Cazorla, Silva and Mata. They can play in tight spaces and they know how to interpret the pattern of a game. They know when to dribble and when to play a short pass. And for me that intelligence is fundamental and needs to be developed from the kids’ level.”
I agree with every word. I don’t think Chris Coleman is ‘that sort of manager’ but Friday night was that sort of game. There aren’t many of that type of manager but the English game is flawed in a key way. Sometimes I went in on a player knowing that this one might hurt him. More times I was tackled and I knew it came with malice. He was after “doing” me. That’s the grammar of the English game. Nobody sets out to break each other’s legs though. It’s how we play the game.
Neil Taylor’s tackle? First up, slow motion distorts everything. In real time on a football pitch, it’s so fast that you don’t have time to think: “Uh oh, this may be a horror tackle.”
No way was Neil Taylor thinking about hurting Seamus Coleman.
Defeat for Wales meant catastrophe. The ball had pinballed around for a couple of seconds before Taylor and Coleman went for it. Loose ball both players going for it. Taylor made a decision in a time frame that has been shown to be faster than the human brain can compute. He acted on instinct and on training. Do not to pull out and do not be seen to pull out. If he doesn’t contest this ball with Seamus Coleman, one of the classier players on the pitch, Neil Taylor will be asked why he stood and watched.
And that’s the inferiority that is endemic in our game. Diving in covers a lot.
Taylor and Coleman came flying at the ball from different angles. Seamus Coleman went straight through. Didn’t pull out. Neil Taylor was a bit late. Didn’t pull out. It’s a physical game where players throw themselves into that sort of tackle without thinking.
Alonso wouldn’t have made that tackle. Iniesta wouldn’t have. Even Busquets would have declined. They are trained and conditioned in their brains to move to the next phase rather than commit themselves like that. For them tackling is a sign of failure.
On another day maybe Seamus Coleman hits the ball clean or maybe Neil Taylor comes off the worst or both players end up needing treatment and then they play on.
On Friday night Seamus Coleman’s leg snapped in two places. That’s a disaster for him, for his club and for his country.
It’s also football the way we play it. Not very well. Fans bay for it till something goes wrong. Being inferior but brave buys a career. No tackle that injures another player is a good tackle but every bad or reckless tackle doesn’t have evil motivation. James McClean could have badly injured Alexis Sanchez the previous weekend. Is McClean the sort of player who wants to injure another pro? No. He’s the sort of wholehearted player every team in our league wants. Neil Taylor? Ditto.
As for Bale? You can take the player out of English football but… Players get away with that stuff in the box because refs judge it differently. Trying to get a connection to score a goal justifies a lot of raised boots.
Put away the noose. Neil Taylor’s crime is not being good enough. Seamus Coleman’s universal popularity and the upsetting nature of the break make it tempting to lynch somebody but hanging Taylor won’t help the Ireland captain.
What will help him is the knowledge that Friday’s draw was huge for Ireland. Halfway through qualifying Ireland are in a terrific position. All going well Seamus Coleman will lead his country out in the World Cup in Russia next summer. Wales will be watching that spectacle on TV and dropping a few mournful pints into a nearby river, as is traditional in Wales at World Cup time.
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