And there he stood Tuesday in a Champion’s League knockout match between the elder statesmen of the San Siro and the interlopers from White Hart Lane.
Flamini, nervously (actually not all that nervously) awaiting sentencing by referee Stephane Lannoy for a reckless, dangerous, and any-other-negative-advective-you-want-to-throw-on-it tackle of Tottenham Hotspur Vedran Corluka.
Corluka, and Spurs, got a harsher sentence than the mere “caution” the Milan hatchet man was awarded: Four weeks on the shelf for the defender in the middle of an important stretch of games for the club.
Flamini? He’ll likely be available to play on Saturday when AC Milan face Chievo Verona back in Serie A.
Flamini’s two-footer is just the latest in a series of vicious tackles that happen all too frequently at the highest level of the game, leaving the offender with a short holiday respite as the lone punishment while all too often leaving the team and the victim at a serious disadvantage for matches on end and, worse, at times imperiling careers.
The proverbial punishment clearly doesn’t fit the crime and that obviously is not a revelation for TSG readers.
Should the defender-come-injurer be perhaps forced to sit on the sideline as long as the injured? That’s an even trade, but also lends itself to punishment in the face of accident, not intent.
Perhaps, if the victim is out for an extended period of time, the club he was injured against needs to pay double the player’s wages–for the player and his replacement?
There’s no perfect solution and many more stringent ones should be put forth. And, yes, a lot of culpability belongs with the ref.
However, there’s a subtle continuum here that rarely gets explored.
Much has been made over the past two years for the hunkering-down, play-on-the-counter game strategy that is most popularly associated with the teams of the Special One, Jose Mourinho or with direct football in England.
The style–one that Xavi in a recent article singled out as boring or “unfootball like”–is maligned for destroying the beauty of the game.
Yet, the bigger “offense” to the game is when challenges like Flamini’s on Corluka and DeJong’s on Alonso and more do not go justly punished in the name of “just letting them play.”
If the ref–and here’s the starting point–reacts appropriately and swiftly (without pride or prejudice of league, match magnitude or game situation), then fewer teams will be able to count on sheer physicality as the lone tonic for a superiorly attacking opponent.
When teams, like Milan this past week or the Netherlands in the World Cup Final, can’t get away with overboard physical play as a game strategy, the game opens up.
Continually, when players who regularly commit ludicrous infractions like Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel (who TSG writer Tuesday calls “a master of the black arts of soccer”) are subject to harsher penalties, then sequentially they’ll have less “value” to their club.
Those players will need to adapt or be replaced….and replaced not by more thugs but likely by more skilled players at best or at least more agile players at the worst.
The game, again, opens up.
The harsher a ref is or game officials are on fouls, the less valuable that type of player becomes to the game.
Compare the situation at San Siro to the one at the Emirates the following today. Arsenal was largely expected to hunker down and weather Barca pressure on the evening. Alexandre Song, a hard-nosed, but not dirty player, cut down Lionel Messi early and immediately got a yellow, not a talking-to, for his handiwork.
The precedent was set by the ref and the game remained flowing and open.
If a goal for the fan or the sport is more attractive, flowing soccer across the globe, the first step is not berating those that play defensively or developing better players through a youth system, it’s reducing the value of players whose main skillset doesn’t contribute to a flowing style.