Fulham manager Mark Hughes has accused some players of putting their fellow professionals’ health at risk with the kind of reckless tackling the Fulham boss believes has crept into the game.
This season has seen a spate of controversial challenges in the Barclays Premier League, with the past week no exception.
Fulham’s Clint Dempsey was the victim of the latest of them last night when Chelsea’s Michael Essien was sent off for a two-footed lunge on the United States midfielder.
At almost exactly the same time, Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas hurt Stephen Ward with a tackle that forced the Wolves player off on a stretcher, while Lee Cattermole left Luka Modric in a heap 24 hours earlier with a challenge in Sunderland’s 1-1 draw at Tottenham.
As a player renowned for his physical approach to the game, former Manchester United striker Hughes may seem to some as the last person qualified to condemn reckless tackling.
But the 47-year-old insisted there is a major difference between his heyday and the modern game.
“The game’s faster, they’re bigger athletes,” said Hughes, who also accepted video technology ensured such incidents were highlighted far more now.
“The collisions, if they’re mistimed or premeditated, then the consequences of that on an opposing player can be dire and significant.
“Years ago, I think there were a lot more fouls and it was refereed in a different way.
“Certainly in my day, I had the reputation – possibly wrongly, I would suggest probably rightly – that I was a physical player, enjoyed that side of the game.
“But, more often than not, people were fit and well when they came up against me after the game.
“Because it was about being competitive, but you never put your fellow professional at risk.
“Just lately, you sense some of the tackles are a little bit reckless and that can put other professionals at risk.”
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti felt Essien should not have been sent off last night, insisting he won the ball.
Match of the Day pundit Alan Hansen also claimed there was no intent from the midfielder to hurt Dempsey.
But Hughes said: “You leave the ground with two feet and you jump in like that, you’re putting another player at risk.
“Probably, I would suggest, the Match of the Day panel hasn’t watched the game in its whole entirety, because they rarely do.”
There have been calls in the past for a panel of former players to sit in judgment of bad tackles but Hughes was sceptical about how it could be implemented.
“If you’re not actually the person that committed the crime, it’s very difficult to understand the intent that somebody has when they go into a challenge,” he said.
“Sometimes a grimace can mean a lot of things.
“It might be that he’s really determined to hurt somebody or it might be that he’s struggling physically to keep up with the game, and that’s the face he pulls when he’s struggling physically.
“It’s very difficult to look at these panels and have confidence they will get the decisions right, most of the time.
“I think you’ve got more of a chance if you have got ex-players, senior players, who’ve played the game and understand challenges that can put people at risk.
“So that might be an advantage, but we’d have to wait and see whether or not in practice it’d actually work.”