Admittedly, I do feel that this was the least reprehensible of the three career-threatening fouls Arsenal have suffered in just four years. Shawcross was off balance and threw himself blindly at the ball which a superior player whipped away. So on this occasion I’m substantially more sympathetic than with Dan Smith’s horrible challenge on Diaby in 2006.
It was an act of stupidity, but that does not excuse the recklessness. There’s an argument for longer bans when the foul is this horrendous. Were Gallas to have been dismissed for his high, but by no means forceful tackle against Bolton he would be facing the same ban as Shawcross. Alex Song is now banned for only one less game for what looked to me a lot like shielding a football.
I don’t want to personally condemn Shawcross, but I do want to question that kind of tackle, so some serious points need dealing with. Firstly the ‘malice’ question. They’re never the type are they? I don’t think there was any ‘malice’ in the tackle, but unless Shawcross is a twisted psychopath there won’t be. If you want to defend him say it was a fucking stupid tackle, don’t give me all this shit about him being a wonderful family man, its irrelevant. The concept of intention isn’t really the point, and it certainly shouldn’t be an insurmountable defence. To be honest if intent was ever an issue he should be hauled in front of a magistrates court and banned from the game, but that’s obviously not the case.
The big question in the media today is why Arsenal? It seems a little much to blame the media for sides trying to kick them. Stereotypes don’t spring from nowhere; they do struggle under pressure. But the key word there is ‘pressure’, not force. Think back to the 2-2 draw with Everton last month, or the draw with Burnley in December. Those sides stymied the Gunners with hard work, not brute force. Apologists for Shawcross and any others who commit this sort of foul should acknowledge that it was more than just mistimed. Weaker sides will always try and beat better ones through effort, and even fouling in any league. Watch sides try and fail to hack at Messi, it’s no different.
There is though a gap between fouls, such as those committed repeatedly by Porto on Fabregas, and horror tackles. It’s fair to argue that this sort of foul is an unfortunate extension of sides trying to hold sronger teams by force. Diaby was injured at Sunderland, Eduardo at Birmingham and now Ramsey at Stoke. You can’t stop sides trying to win through effort, nor should you, but you must try to legislate against the type of tackle that takes that concept too far. Its not a question of intent, nor is it a question or the injury caused; most broken legs in football come from innocuous challenges. Any horrendous foul should mean far harsher punishments than those for professional fouls or even dissent. That is the only way possible to encourage a measure of restraint in such tackles. This is why tackling from behind was outlawed, to lessen the threat of such challenges.
You can’t rule against people trying dangerous challenges. Every fan loves it when they come off right. But that doesn’t mean you can’t punish people when it goes wrong. If you take the risk, you must be prepared to face the penalty.