International breaks usually prove uneventful in relation to all things Aston Villa. However, Friday night’s World Cup qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Wales ultimately threw our left back Neil Taylor into an unwanted spotlight.
In the sixty-ninth minute, a collision between Taylor and Seamus Coleman resulted in a horrific double leg break for the Irish right back. Taylor was promptly sent off. With images of Coleman’s leg literally flopping about within his sock and the lengthy treatment on the pitch, the severity of the injury was clear without needing to wait for the confirmation from the Republic’s manager Martin O’Neill at the post-match press conference.
Cue the meltdown on social media and Taylor’s instant elevated status to enemy number one.
The abuse that Taylor has received since has been disgusting. Twitter especially has been awash with physical threats, bizarrely including threats from several Irish boxers and MMA fighters. Interestingly, a large portion of Villa fans even seemed to turn on the Welshman.
The abuse itself doesn’t warrant airing again here. It is easy enough to find if you haven’t already seen it. My issue with the whole thing is the overall response to Taylor. Dare I say it, I can’t help thinking there has been an unfair reaction. Taylor has been singled out for something that any footballer is potentially capable of.
Firstly, let’s make no mistakes about it, the tackle was bad. It was too high, it was mis-timed and it was late. I’m not excusing or condoning it in any way. However, the way Taylor has been portrayed inthe aftermath towards is unfair.
The ball was there to be won. Both players had the right to challenge for it. Coleman got there quicker than Taylor. Taylor executed a poor challenge and unfortunately there were consequences of that. However, you will see much worse tackles than Taylor’s pretty much week on week. Even during the very same game, Gareth Bale committed a shocking tackle on John O’Shea which I think was actually much more reckless. O’Shea ended up with stitches rather than a broken leg and so, of course, there is fairly minimal fuss surrounding that particular incident. That is an important aspect. For me, the reaction to Taylor stems from several factors.
Obviously the severity of Coleman’s injury is the overwhelming issue here. It is a sickening injury. Some descriptions of Taylor’s tackle as one of the ‘worst ever’ are wide of the mark. I do think it’s important to try and put it into some perspective. Nine times out of ten, that same collision produces a different outcome. The margins are so fine. A split second earlier or even later in the tackle and it could even be Taylor himself coming off worse. Most times we see crunching tackles where both players simply get up and carry on. In this instance, unfortunately, one of the consequences of playing football has occurred. It isn’t excusable and Taylor’s challenge could definitely have been more controlled. Yet whilst Coleman is the victim of this, Taylor is also unlucky to find himself hounded in such a way. As I say, Bale’s wild lunge is just one of so many other tackles which in my opinion have been much more dangerous yet without the severe consequences or accompanying abuse.
Another great example is the tackle a few weeks ago during the Champions League tie between Tottenham Hotspur and Gent. Dele Alli produced a true horror tackle which, I believe, was much worse than Taylor’s, and even Bale’s. UEFA have since administered a three-match European game ban for the England youngster. Despite initial media condemnation, which was wishy-washy at best, Alli escaped the abuse that has been levelled at Taylor. Alli’s tackle was much worse. It was higher up the leg of his opponent, practically on the knee. It was also a double footed lunge. So why has Taylor received dogs’ abuse while Alli remains revered?
The problem isn’t actually with the tackle. It is the outcome. People see the injury suffered by Coleman and react to that rather than the actual circumstances. Also, I believe that the receiving player’s profile has something to do with it. Seamus Coleman is one of the Republic’s best players. This outraged the Irish community for a start. Patriotism within an international, especially a home nations fixture, cannot be underestimated in the situation. However, his club side, Everton, has now also lost one of its top players and an important cog in the way the Toffees attack from the back. At twenty-eight years old, Coleman is in his prime and certainly regarded as one of the best right backs in the Premier League. Comparing this with the Alli situation again, did anyone even know that his opponent was named Brecht Dejaegere? No one cared.
On top of this, I would suggest that Neil Taylor isn’t exactly a popular player as it is anyway. Swansea supporters, overall, didn’t hold him in high regard and were fine seeing him leave the club. Villa fans didn’t exactly greet him with open arms either. Despite settling in with some assured performances of late and beginning to win over some of those sections of support, Taylor’s popularity is still lukewarm at best.
In my opinion, these are factors which make it easier to get on Taylor’s back. Had Alli, an England golden boy, caused a leg break to Dejaegere then I don’t believe that he would have received even a quarter of the abuse or condemnation that Taylor has. Ridiculous suggestions such as banning Taylor from all football for the duration of Coleman’s injury or a lifelong international ban have been put forward as serious punishment options by those who are, of course, in the know.
The media also has a part to play in this. The bandwagon culture is rife for things like this and some of the stuff I heard on TalkSport last weekend absolutely blew my mind. On Saturday morning, a show featuring Arsenal cult icon Perry Groves and host Mike Parry excelled in the ludicrous. Groves first of all suggested that there was clear intent from Taylor to hurt Coleman. I found this to be an almost libellous claim. This was qualified as being acceptable as Groves was an ex-professional and would clearly be able to sniff out the intent of a man he doesn’t even know on a personal level. To suggest such a thing is unbelievable. Parry then surpassed even this and confirmed my existing thoughts that he should not be anywhere near a broadcasting facility. His completely serious suggestion as to any grey area of intent for players who have committed horror tackles was that it should be dealt with by the FA, whose officials need to invest in some equipment to ‘read the brain waves’ of players to see if they are telling the truth or not in regards to whether they meant to injure an opponent or not. I wish I was making this stuff up.
Perhaps a fairer criticism came from John Hartson. Offering a more reasoned view, Hartson suggested that Taylor hadn’t gone in to intentionally hurt Coleman. Yet the former Welsh striker has himself received abuse over the weekend for being seen as defending Taylor’s tackle. This is despite clearly stating also that he ‘cannot condone it’. Hartson has been pressed to come out and clarify that the tackle was ‘reckless’ and that he categorically wasn’t defending it in his initial summation. It seems that unless Taylor is emphatically condemned then the hate mob will not be satisfied.
Whilst Taylor is of course to blame and the tackle was poor, it must be remembered that these are the potential consequences of playing football. Taylor himself has been on the end of a tackle which broke his ankle and kept him out of the game for eight months. He would be more aware of the effects of a bad tackle than most. People will then argue that he should know better before lunging in. I think it is actually to his credit that he is still undeterred from committing to a 50/50 situation. Certainly, as an Aston Villa supporter, I don’t want anyone to be scared of going into a tackle.
I’m not particularly Taylor’s biggest fan. I wasn’t overly keen on his arrival at Villa. I still have my reservations. Those fans who have suggested nonsense like banning him from the first team are deluded. That isn’t how football works. Taylor is a player for our club and as such I’m sure our support for him would go a long way rather than treating him as a pariah. Also, to those fans planning on booing him – just please don’t even bother turning up.
I don’t suggest that Taylor is let off the hook or absolved of the blame for this but I think threats of physical violence, ridiculous bans and disgusting abuse are over the top and have no place.
The situation is regrettable but, ultimately, I find it difficult to see it as anything other than a potential consequence of playing football. It was a bad tackle. Even with the best of intentions, bad tackles can happen in the game. Most of the time, thankfully, they don’t produce such unfortunate outcomes.
Everyone wishes Seamus Coleman the speediest of recoveries and hopes he comes back stronger than ever. He’s a great player and will be a huge loss for Everton and for the Republic of Ireland’s bid to reach Russia 2018.