I have put the tin hat on, and am preparing for the verbal assault I may receive
Firstly, I understand that Nigel de Jong has got a reputation, and that there is no smoke without fire. In a warm-up game for the World Cup against the USA, de Jong broke the leg of Stuart Holden. It was not a two-footed challenge but it was reckless, and it was nasty. During the World Cup final, de Jong caught Xabi Alonso in the chest with a high foot. Again, the challenge did not look good on replays. De Jong was not looking at Alonso when he caught him, but again he was reckless.
Last Sunday, De Jong challenged Hatem Ben Arfa. He broke Ben Arfa’s leg. On Tuesday de Jong was dropped from the Netherlands squad to face Moldova on Friday.
I will at least attempt to argue that there has been a severe overreaction to Sunday’s incident, and that his dropping from the squad was an unfair response.
The tackle was hard. The challenge was a 50/50. But the ball was won. This was not the wild challenge of Karl Henry the day before, nowhere near the ball. This was a challenge that can be criticised for the scissor movement, but it cannot be discounted that de Jong won the ball.
Players break their legs. It is a horrible truth in football that because of the inevitable colliding of limbs, injuries will occur, and that sometimes these injuries will be broken bones. Hatem Ben Arfa is very unlucky that he has such a break, but the seriousness of the injury is not necessarily positively correlated with the malice of the challenge. If Ben Arfa had not broken his leg, which he easily may not have done, would there be such an outcry?
Look at the reactions of the Newcastle players. We are in an age of the Premier League where shocking challenges are immediately followed by a melee in which players from the affected side plead with the referee for a red card. The Newcastle players did not do this. If anything, the game continued for a few seconds as if there was no injury.
Referee Martin Atkinson had a clear view of the incident. Yes, I do realise he missed penalty decisions in the same game, but he was no more than ten yards away. Additionally the assistant referee was adjacent to the tackle. Neither even waved for a free kick.
After the game, Newcastle United’s assistant manager Colin Calderwood stated:
“I wouldn’t want to take that kind of challenge out of football. The consequences of the challenge are horrible but there was a certain amount of misfortune in that Hatem’s legs were attached to the ground”
Now I am not Colin’s biggest fan, but this seems a sensible conclusion.
Bert van Marwijk’s Dutch side were criticised for their aggressive tactics in the World Cup final. How can Bert be so two-faced? Who do you think gave the Dutch players these instructions in the World Cup?
Is this not van Marwijk merely making de Jong the scapegoat for the personal criticism he received as manager after the World Cup?
If van Marwijk thinks that he should not players that commit reckless bad challenges, how can he continue to pick Mark van Bommel. His challenge in the final on Iniesta was a genuine leg breaker. There was intent and a wilful neglect for the ball.
Nigel de Jong is a good football player. He is not a silky dribbler of the ball, he is a midfield destroyer. The next time the Dutchman goes into a challenge, he will have doubt (ironically often when serious injuries occur). He will constantly have in the back of his mind that he has a ‘reputation’. Add to this the now inevitable booing from opposition fans and the eternal media microscope, and it is easy to see why a boost from his national manager may well have helped the situation.
As football fans we love to make opinions about people, labelling people with reputations that they will struggle to lose. Paul Scholes does a shocking challenge and Andy Gray laughs that it is “typical Scholesy”. Titter Titter. Joey Barton commits the same challenge and he is vilified once more. These challenges have to be judged on a case-by-case merit. It can be argues that this witch hunt has been coming since Howard Webb admitted that he should have sent off de Jong against Spain.