Cliché of the week: “Professional foul”

Thomas Browne takes issue with the cynical nature of modern defending

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It’s the last few minutes of a tense match.

Finely poised at 0-0 and with both sides in vital need of the points, the players are well aware that conceding a goal now could have disastrous effects on their season.

The opposition winger breaks free on the halfway line and looks about to initiate a counter-attack which may lead to a winner.

Alas, there is a school of thought in football that has conditioned a certain breed of players to think that the only justifiable course of action in this scenario is what, in common football parlance, is referred to as the ‘professional foul’—or in other words, the deliberate fouling of the opposition so that when play is resumed they will have a theoretically lower chance to score a goal.

I detest the professional foul because of what it stands for in the modern game. The ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality behind it is the same one that underlies play-acting to get an opposition player sent off—as demonstrated so expertly by Sergio Ramos in last weekend’s Champions League Final.

While these actions are universally condemned in the media, somehow the professional foul is revered in the modern game as an unattractive, yet ultimately selfless, sacrifice for the team.

It is this vain of thinking, that makes players like Lee Cattermole into cult heroes for their apparent willingness to devote all to the team, in the form of executing a well-timed scything down of an opposition player when needs be.

Such fouls should not be sugar-coated by terming them ‘professional’ but instead be branded for what they are: examples of negative play, excuses for petulant or, in their lowest form, nothing more than pure laziness.

We must end our tacit praise for such examples of cynicism, and condemn them for what they are to try and maintain the excitement and beautiful play that they prohibit.