Op-Ed: Lament Flamini’s Style, Not Mourinho’s

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.

Mathieu Flamini.

Celebration after castration...

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.

Master of the Black Arts...

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.

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36 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Soccernst on 2011/02/18 at 2:07 AM

    I think something along the lines of a three strikes rule with a massive penalty on the end. Non-malicious players will occasionally commit manslaughter. Serial killers? Would a year complete ban from football be too short? I mean, if Nigel received a broken leg for every leg he’s snapped, dude would be 6 inches shorter.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Tab's Snickers Bar on 2011/02/18 at 5:54 AM

    I have a solution: let’s ban all Italians from playing the game and thus effect a reduction in all forms of cheating by 100 percent.

    Reply

    • Posted by matthewsf on 2011/02/18 at 10:49 AM

      Really? Odd? Not sure how that helps the situation when Flamini (French) and DeJong (Hollandaise) are not Italian.

      Really weak sauce to pull the ethnicity card here. I’ve seen some awful things in many leagues from Carlos Ruiz’s head kick of Tim Howard to Emanuel Adebayor’s stomp on Robin Van Persie.

      Poor solution.

      Reply

      • Posted by Tab's Snickers Bar on 2011/02/18 at 5:12 PM

        Pull the ethnicity card? Please. It’s not my fault that the Italians play the way they do. If any other nationality consistantly played with no class I would be equally critical and hilarious about it. Typical politically correct response to a joke though.

        Reply

        • Posted by Tab's Snickers Bar on 2011/02/18 at 5:24 PM

          Also, with all the success that the Italians have had internationally playing the counter-attacking, diving, fouling, anti-football style, one could argue that the rest of the world is simply adapting in its own way.

          There is no discernable difference between De Rossi and DeJong, and De Rossi is arguably even worse because in addition to being dirty, he falls down easier than a penquin in a windstorm.

          Let me be clear: there have been a lot of great individual Italian players, both recently and in the past. But I’m not gonna apologize or be accused of pulling ethnicity cards because I make fun of their pure garbage national tactical philosophy and penchant for dirty play.

          Reply

  3. Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/18 at 6:59 AM

    xavi, lets put this guy on villarreal and see just how great he is. xavi does not like any soccer that will defeat his team. destroying the beautiful game, what, is soccer more or less rugged then it was say thirty years ago, and im not sure there is any doubt about the answer. so how is the beautiful game going in direction that would destroy it. sounds like comments made by xavi before the arsenal game and it came in the context of this game between two sides that play “total football”

    of course spain won this last world cup and euro championship because they had the best defense and they had strong players like marcos senna and pique and pyuol, who did not mind getting a little nasty. whats good for the goose, is good for the gander.

    Reply

    • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/02/18 at 8:25 AM

      Did you watch that WC final last year? I’m not a huge Barca fan but for you to be attacking Xavi’s recognized abilities as the playmaking engine on the 1)current reigning European and World Cup champions 2)reigning CL club champions just undermines any argument you put forward. Barca and Spain play high pressing defense but mostly prevent goals by POSSESSION of the ball in a highly skilled, disciplined and very often beautiful way. Not by recklessly injuring the opponent with intent as the Dutch attempted last year.
      I understand your desire to be contrarian but really the examples given in the article are clear. He’s not suggesting removing “hard” tackling it’s tackling with intent to injure or reckless tackles that need to be policed.

      Reply

      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/18 at 8:35 AM

        kickingforgames, dont you find it a little ironic that the inventors of total football have produced two players that are prone to playing this soccer that xavi is speaking out against?

        Reply

        • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/02/18 at 9:02 AM

          Yes. Incredibly ironic. It’s also well documented that the true inventor and evangelist of TF was Kruyff who brought it to Barca 30+ yrs ago. They took it and applied it strategically from their development programs up and gave us the product that we see now. Huge talent matched with flawless tactics. Again, I’m not a Barca fan (as a matter of fact, a Chelsea follower) but as a fan of the game cannot help but admire what they have accomplished.
          They deserve to be allowed to play that way without being subjected to brute fouling by less sides.

          Reply

        • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/18 at 9:38 AM

          that makes a lot of sense kfg, come on now, what are you saying, the team that plays the most attrctive soccer should be gifted the win? what a bunch of malarky, of course you are not a barca fan, but you recognize beautiful soccer. so you have awareness. flawless tactics from barcalona, what happened in the arsenal game with the flawless tactics, with a one goal lead to boot?

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        • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/02/18 at 9:55 AM

          They lost. To a team that did an incredible job on the day of beating them at their own game-high pressing defense and possession oriented offense. Messi missed at least one that he normally puts away and..they lost.
          Frankly, it was a very enjoyable game with flow. Song fouled too often for my liking but not recklessly to harm.
          Not sure what your point is here but look forward to more insightful commentary.

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 12:33 PM

          Song’s fouls weren’t malicious [as you say], but it did allow Arsenal to reset.

          Reply

    • Posted by Tux on 2011/02/18 at 8:27 AM

      1. Xavi’s a master. No matter what team you put him on, he’s going to be one. The lesser talent around will partially diminish his effect on the game, but he’s still going do what he does best. Nobody – and I mean nobody – has his passing touch and grace. But it’s academic, because he’s never leaving Barca.
      2. Having players who can tackle and win challenges does not mean you have players who “don’t mind getting a little nasty.” Look at the total fouls in the WC. Spain committed 82 in their 7 games. The Dutch? 126. Spain? 8 yellows. The Dutch? TWENTY-TWO (and one red). This is what Xavi’s decrying – the use of the dirty play to break up the flow of the game. That’s worse than parking the bus – and how often do we slaughter teams for doing that? Players who are willing to foul to stop a goal is part of soccer – always has been, always will be. If someone has a breakaway and you can drag them down, you take the red and say “thank you very much” to the ref as you leave the pitch.

      But plays like the one above have made players like DeJong and Van Bommel very, very rich men – and that’s a travesty. There’s no scoring chance there, that tackle was made simply with the intent of injury. There shouldn’t be a place for that in soccer. Are players going to be hurt, are reckless challenges occasionally going to be made, yes – but let’s do what we can to limit that.

      Reply

      • Posted by dikranovich on 2011/02/18 at 9:39 AM

        andreas pirlo has equal touch to any other player in the world. maybe even better.

        Reply

  4. Posted by Damon on 2011/02/18 at 7:37 AM

    For truly egregious fouls have a suspension that puts the team with 10 men at the start of the next game as well. You need to hurt the team on the field for the players to really change their behavior.

    Reply

    • Posted by Soccernst on 2011/02/18 at 8:47 AM

      Like this idea. Possibly cost your team 3 points in this game, and 3 in the next? That is a steep price to pay for a team. Transfer values for players with a record goes down, because they are not worth the risk. — I do think this is something for a review board like all multi-game suspensions. Referee hands out a red card. Review board looks at it to measure it’s egregiocity (that right there is the sticky part).

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 12:41 PM

        The one problem I have with suspensions is that you are rewarding other teams rather than the team that had the foul commited against them.

        I think having a two tier system of yellow and red cards should be overlooked. How can taking your shirt off when celebrating a goal, or dissent be the same as a bad tackle? You want to keep the human element in the game but get rid of the thuggery.

        I must admit, I like the system in rugby union where there are sin bins and the ability to move the ball 10 metres, in the case for free kicks… Not sure this is the answer, but Song’s foul and Flamini’s should have the same equity attached to it IMO.

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 12:46 PM

          And they need to change the rule where if a referee sees a tackle and acts upon it [Flamini's yellow], that’s the end of the matter – whoever the governing body is should be able to retrospectively upgrade to a red. Remember, we’ve seen it 100s of times from 10 angles, on slow motion, so this is not to have a pop at the ref.

          But I don’t want the ref to be consulting the replay after every decision. That would break the flow more.

          Reply

  5. Posted by chris on 2011/02/18 at 7:45 AM

    as a hockey fan first, i must say that this has happened in hockey over the last 10 years, and it has been for the better. the speedier smaller youth are replacing the older sizier enforcers, because they are of less value to their team. this has made the game better. except for thugs..

    Reply

  6. Posted by brian on 2011/02/18 at 9:02 AM

    I’ve always wondered why someone doesn’t destroy de Jong, van Bommel, or Flamini. If I’m a coach with 2 minutes left in the game and a two goal lead, put a scrub in and tell them to get a red card by absolutely destroying both of de Jong’s knees.

    Defend it to the press as protecting the careers of talented soccer players for years to come. Any soccer fan would love that.

    Reply

    • Posted by Dan on 2011/02/18 at 11:04 AM

      I’ve wondered the same thing about soccer. In baseball, it’s unwritten law that if your guy gets beaned you protect him by beaning one of their guys. That’s how you stand up for your guys. But you don’t really see that in soccer. That two-footed tackle by Flamini was unbelievable. But if the ref isn’t going to blow his whistle, one of your guys had better give it right back.

      Reply

    • Posted by Tux on 2011/02/18 at 2:50 PM

      I rarely advocate for taking out a hit on a player in soccer, but as a former hockey and baseball player…I feel like this is great example of an unwritten rule that should be placed into existence as soon as possible. It shouldn’t be used often, but in the case of repeat offenders..I’d support it.

      Reply

      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 3:15 PM

        Two wrongs don’t make a right. This is ridiculous. We should be looking at ways to make changes to the game to benefit everybody, not looking to get an enforcer to exact revenge…

        Reply

        • Posted by Tux on 2011/02/18 at 3:23 PM

          Fair point. But I am shocked we haven’t had someone take a crack at one of these thugs yet.

          What we’re trying do here is to get rid of the “enforcers,” who are really just thugs. None of the ideas I’ve heard seem that viable – you can’t really punish a team during a game beyond sending the player off. Any punishment beyond that still means that in a worst-case scenario, the team that gets fouled gets a man advantage for the rest of the game – that’s it.

          …unless you let the other team decide who gets sent off in return. Say DeJong mugs Stevie Gerrard and gets a red. Liverpool could choose to send Tevez off instead. It’s definitely an imperfect idea, but does it warrant at least a thought?

          Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 3:51 PM

          I agree, the game is much better today that years gone by with the likes of celebrated ‘hard men’ such as Ron “Chopper” Harris, Billy Bremner, Dave McKay and Tommy Smith .

          Personally, for completely reckless challenges, I am in favour of the offender being absent for the length of the injured player. But then there’s the grey area regarding who decides what’s wreckless and what’s not. Not to mention the boffins in the EU who’ll shout ‘restraint of trade!!’

          Reply

        • Posted by dth on 2011/02/18 at 4:36 PM

          Don’t think EU laws would prevent internal punishments such as those.

          Reply

        • Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/02/21 at 7:44 AM

          Somehow one of the worst offenders of the modern era got left off your Hall of Lame list….Sir Roy of Keane. The Grand Duke of Harm.

          Reply

  7. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/02/18 at 9:12 AM

    Matt,
    Excellent post BTW. It should be noted that deJong’s ugliness has been very muted since the Dutch coach kept him off the side due to his repeated injurious tackles. Essentially proving your point, that once it costs them something, players can and will change their approach. He’s still a good and aggressive CDM but the reckless fouling has been muted. For now.

    Reply

  8. Posted by scweeb on 2011/02/18 at 12:20 PM

    I think my favorite part of the game was when Gutuso was on the ground after he got that yellow card throwing a temper like a little kid

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 12:47 PM

      I thought he actually got the ball *before* his momentum carry him through and caught the player…

      Reply

      • Posted by away goals on 2011/02/18 at 2:49 PM

        Getting the ball first doesn’t exempt a player from committing a foul. That’s a myth.

        Regardless of whether it was a foul or not, I gave the tantrum a 6.5 on a scale of 1 to my 3 year-old niece up past her bedtime.

        Reply

        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/18 at 3:12 PM

          I understand that you cannot get the ball and then follow through with the studs up etc, but in this case, the contact was not malicious or dangerous. Big difference. I do not think it was yellow card worthy.

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  9. Posted by Ryan vH on 2011/02/18 at 8:09 PM

    “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.”
    No, if some player is made of glass then a player shouldn’t be given a harsher punishment. If should be on based on the wrecklessness of the challenge. If a player is injured then maybe the punishment should be increased.
    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?”
    That could literally bankrupt clubs. What if some overachieving Copa del Rey minnow of a club had a player that had a questionable challenge that sidelined Messi for 4 months. They couldn’t afford that. That rule would almost make smaller clubs have to EASE up when they are playing against stronger clubs with bigger bank accounts.

    Flamini shouldn’t be allowed to play the 2nd leg. Corluka was having a hell of a match before he was taken out. That’s why Flamini did a two footed tackle on him.

    Reply

    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2011/02/19 at 5:42 AM

      They would have to take out insurance to protect themselves against this – just like the smaller national FAs do.

      Reply

  10. Posted by megabrain2.0 on 2011/02/19 at 12:07 PM

    This truly is the great dilemma of the modern game that we all love. I hate to use the cliche “the reason the game is beautiful is…” but the reson the game is beautiful is because it takes on the identity of the culture that plays it, or the mentality of the club. This is something so rare in sport; that a game is malleable in such a way that it becomes personal to a community nation or culture (outside of soccer, I can only cite the Pittsburgh Steelers as a team that takes on the style and identity of a community, I may be biased on that though). Beieve it or not, the open style of arsenal, barca, etc. is nt everyone’s favorite style, and I am one of those people (and I hope I haven’t discretied myself by referencing the NFL above). I love the fast paced, hard tackling style of the EPL, I like the German style and the way the game is played in the Bundesliga. This isn’t to say that the pure style isn’t great, it is, but it has its downfalls (you need to be really good to play it… successfully at least).
    To suggest that everyone should aspire to play in this “pure” style isn’t actually a pure thought to me. Ultimately the game is played to win, and if playing a physical (not malicious, obviously), direct (not hit and run) style is successful… it’s successful. A team still needs to be able to complete the final ball, control the ball, defend, make saves, and finish. Basically what I’m intending to say here is that there is a place for physicality in the game, and there needs to be a place for it, but that means that there will be harsh challenges. Flamini’s challenge is disgusting and scary and Vedran is very lucky to get away with only a month projection on his ankle. We need to quit singling out De Jong. He’s a hard player and a good player and he walks a line that is often dangerous. I don’t see malice in any of his “highlight” bad challenges, I just see a player committing to a tackle to help his team.

    I’ll end with what I always say. This game needs villains. Without them the artistry is less beautiful because there is not worthy antagonist. We don’t watch (or at least I don’t) outh American domestic leagues because there is no defense. Dare I say it is too “purified.”

    Reply

  11. [...] A slug-it-out, drag-it-down affair last time, saw Mathieu Flamini two-foot Vedran Corluka putting him out of commission for a short lunar cycle (and draw the ire of The Shin Guardian). [...]

    Reply

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