We don’t know exactly what he plans to say, of course, but if Pep Guardiola gets his meeting with the PGMO Limited I’d like to think it won’t lead to any concrete changes.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand exactly what’s happening and I do believe in protecting all players when it comes to other players pushing the boundaries of acceptable tackles, but there is a very big but indeed coming, and one we ignore at our peril.
Revenues for televised football are already down on the next contract and the last thing we need right now is to turn our league into just another one, no matter how much other European federations may prioritise the technical over the physical.
Let’s face it, haven’t we come on leaps and bounds as it is, by anyone’s standards, when it comes to the technical elements in our game? Challenges that were the norm not so very long ago are being highlighted, and rightly so, but I would counsel in the strongest terms against moves that would have a knock-on effect on the unrivalled worldwide popularity of the product we call English football.
Better clubs will always feel that the smaller clubs have no option but to get stuck in against them, and that is never going to change. But tell me, how did the beautifully-constructed, all conquering Liverpool pull off their own win over City recently if it was not by pressing and getting after them before earning the right to impose their will and their own style of play?
Add that to the kind of pitches that are now commonplace around the Premier League, which reward possession football and actually discourage players from sliding in like they used to in the mud. Now there’s the ever-present fear of doing their own knee by getting stuck in some of the sophisticated knitted materials that go into the surfaces they play on, so the trend is surely only going in the direction Guardiola is advocating already.
Some have pointed to tackles from David Silva and Fernandinho, even by Vincent Kompany in days gone by, as if to mitigate those from Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Jason Puncheon and Cardiff’s Joe Bennett, whose scything strike to the ankle sidelined Leroy Sane and seemed to bring the debate to a head.
And UEFA referee chief Pierluigi Collina was also quoted as the Champions League knock-out stages kicked off, saying: “We need to have players playing, so there must be protection for them on the field…
“We do not want situations where a player’s future is put in doubt because of serious injury caused by a challenge, whether it is intentional or unintentional.
“Players must understand they have to respect their opponents and show the same positive behaviour to them they would want to receive themselves… Football is a beautiful game, and we want it to stay that way.”
So Pep is far from the first to cry foul, as Jose Mourinho kind of puts it, and it most certainly helps you make your case when you are talking from a position of relative strength, as the primary spokesman for our champions elect.
For me, however, while we have a duty to look after all players, whatever division they are in, we have a parallel duty to continue to produce the kind of football that values commitment every bit as highly as technique.
It can never be just one-way, Pep, I’m afraid, and even if that means every now and again a tackle will cross a line that we can all agree on, the price of changing what makes our brand of the game so great is simply too high.