After Raheem Sterling’s tackle in England’s latest World Cup warm up game against Ecuador saw the normally placid Antonio Valencia reach for the Englishman’s throat and had them both sent off, a thought occurred: as we slowly see more and more rash sliding tackles and see an increasing number of injuries because of them, it might be time to put the sliding tackle (as a form of dispossessing another player) to bed.
Before you start lambasting this ridiculous idea, note the bit in brackets. All will be explained later.
If executed properly, the sliding tackle is an art form. Seeing a player slide across the turf, knock the ball away from another player, and not leave the other player on the floor is a beautiful sight. There have been a fair few tackles which have seen fans – myself included – stand up and applaud the sheer quality and deftness of the execution. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain executed a perfect tackle a few years ago; even now thinking about it makes me smile. Trust me, it was beautiful.
Executed badly, and the consequences for the player on the receiving end are devastating. As an Arsenal fan, two incidents spring immediately to mind – Eduardo and Aaron Ramsey – but fans of all clubs can think of at least one awful tackle that had an entire stadium wince. Poor tackles have set players’ careers back, ended seasons, and more importantly, ended careers. Dean Ashton is the name that immediately jumps out.
The problem is that with fewer players being taught how to tackle, and the increasing speed of the game, major injuries and poor tackles are increasingly common. Even if they don’t result in serious injuries, players have been going over the top of the ball, sliding too late and only taking out the player resulting in minor niggles which see players out of action for various lengths of time. With the game getting faster and faster, players are mistiming their tackles more often, and the player in possession is frequently left on the floor. Players who have suffered serious injuries in the past are more than aware of how dangerous it can be if a player mistimes his tackle and catches the player, which is why the likes of Abou Diaby and Antonio Valencia react so badly when they are caught. They’ve already had serious injuries; another one could be fatal to their careers, and fellow professionals should be more considerate of potentially ending another’s career.
Generally, the top teams have already started phasing out the sliding tackle. The focus now is more on intercepting the ball while it has been passed between players, and getting between player and ball if it looks like they’ve overrun it. This method of tackling is a lot safer, as it eliminates the risk of players racing in at speed and then effectively throwing their leg at the ball with little control. There is more control in a standing challenge, and it allows the tackler to retain possession after the tackle. In a sliding tackle, the ball is just knocked away and could easily be regained by an opposition player; with a standing tackle the tackler immediately takes possession and can lay it off to a teammate.
We’re also seeing a move away from the slide tackle on the continent too. In leagues where the game is generally slower and more technical, fewer slide tackles are performed, with the result that fewer players are suffering major injuries because of them and players are keener to move to the continent. It’s natural that players want to move to leagues where they are less likely to have their careers ended by “not that sort of player”. The move to standing tackles is also motivated by the need to keep possession, which is partly why continental teams are better at keeping the ball. If England really harbours intentions to play a possession based game, it makes sense to introduce a tackling method which allows the tackler to obtain and keep possession.
Perfectly executed tackles are becoming a real rarity in today’s game, with most poor tackles excused by ex-professionals and those who really should know better, as players becoming frustrated by overrunning the ball or seeking to win it back quickly after giving it away. If a player is in that frame of mind, he is going to be even less concerned about the welfare of his fellow professional, and if the red mist sets in he stands a serious chance of doing real damage to his opponent. With the main aim of winning the ball at all costs overriding the concern for their opponent, players are losing control when they execute the tackle and occasionally jump into it. More control and calculations are needed to execute the tackle and minimise risk to the players.
It shouldn’t matter if a player has no malice in the tackle, if he’s just over-keen, if the recipient is considered weak, or if the tackler is “not that sort of player”; a tackle in today’s game needs to be executed perfectly, or it should not be executed at all. Even the slightest miscalculation in the modern game is likely to result in injury to a fellow professional, and regardless of whether there is any intention, miscalculations should not be tolerated – they aren’t in any other facet of the game, so why should they be accepted in such a risky element? A movement should be made to encourage standing tackles where both players are able to walk away, and whoever comes away with the ball keeps possession. We need fewer “full-blooded” tackles which leave players writhing on the floor.
The only place slide tackling has in the game is as a way to block shots, “John Terry style”. Getting in front of the player, about a yard or so away and throwing yourself in the way of the shot eliminates the possibility of causing injury to fellow professionals, and has the added advantage of actually stopping the ball from testing the goalkeeper. The issue remains though that at the speeds today, there is a severe lack of control in the sliding tackle, and the player making the slide is opening his body up to a painful blow if the ball is struck with venom.
Slide tackling is sadly becoming a riskier way of regaining possession, with players being more concerned with winning the ball back at all costs rather than winning it in a controlled manner minimising the risk of hurting the opponent. Football is a physical game, of course it is, which is why standing tackles are encouraged; the problem arises when the physical element of the game begins to pose a risk to the players. Physicality is one thing, but there is absolutely no way a player should be allowed to do anything which places his fellow professionals at risk of serious injury – which is a real risk when players are flying into tackles with little to no control.
By Raj Devandran - Arsenal fan - @