Danny Murphy made himself unpopular with the League Manager’s Association last week, with even the usually circumspectly judicious Big Sam putting the metaphorical (we’ll get to the actual) boot in, for suggesting that a possible reason for the spate of straight red tackles and serious injuries might be that certain managers (Pullis, McCarthy and the aforementioned Allardyce – weirdly, not Steve Bruce) overdo their pre-match motivation. The consequence of this says Murphy, is that players come out overly fired up for games and are unduly reckless as a result.
Undoubtedly, the managers are entitled to defend themselves: especially when they do so hilariously. And it is the LMA’s job to defend their members. But by the same token Murphy’s job is to captain Fulham, and having seen two of his colleagues (Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele) injured by overly aggressive challenges he has a right to speak out and try to protect his own colleagues.
I think Murphy is partly right. There is no doubt that certain managers love the physical aspect of the game. They regard it as their duty first and foremost to win points for their side, and say things like: ‘If we try to play Arsenal [for example] at their own game, they’ll pass us off the pitch’. They speak in the euphemism of ‘disruption’, which covers all manner of sins. I don’t think, though, that means that serious injuries like we’ve seen a lot of recently are a necessary consequence of that.
You’ve got to look at the players themselves.
Zamora was hurt by Wolves captain Karl Henry. Henry is a special case; he is an idiot, and a regular perpetrator of the worst, lungey, late sort of tackle. Within a month, self-styled voice of the people Harry Redknapp has flip–flopped on the Wolves captain. Lee Cattermole, who is captain of Sunderland, has a record comparable to Henry’s.
The captain represents the manager on the pitch, and as such expresses the personality of a side. Terry and Vidic ooze the muscularity that defines their sides, Tevez the cosmopolitan energy of Man City and Fabregas the tippy-tappy artistry of Arsenal. Clearly, some of these personalities have changed. It was only a few years ago that Arsenal and Manchester United were captained by Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane respectively. But football itself has changed in that time (Vieira, even, has changed) so that the likes of Henry and Cattermole are throwbacks to a very different game. If that’s how Bruce and McCarthy want to present themselves on the pitch, then Murphy may be on to something.