Gavin Hamilton
Tuesday February 26th, 2008

It's a shame that is has taken a terrible injury --­ a broken leg and dislocated ankle suffered by Arsenal striker Eduardo da Silva ­-- to spark a debate about dangerous play.

Almost without exception, former players have lined up to express sympathy for Martin Taylor, the Birmingham City defender whose crude challenge resulted in the injury to Eduardo in the opening minutes of last Saturday's English Premier League game.

Taylor was not a malicious player, they said. But soccer is a physical game, and occasionally injuries of the ferocity of that suffered by Eduardo will happen.

Andy Gray, the former Aston Villa, Wolves and Everton striker who is now the lead pundit for Sky Sports, typifies the ex-pro's approach to such matters. Gray is a lucid analyst of the game, and his live commentaries brilliantly reflect the passion of the Premier League. But he can always be relied upon to defend his fellow professionals when their aggression gets the better of them.

"Ooh, that's harsh!" is Gray's standard reaction when a player is booked or sent off, usually for a late or mistimed tackle. While I agree that tackling remains an essential part of the game, I can't accept Gray's general assertion that players don't act without intent.

The increased pace and intensity of the English game, combined with an unwillingness by referees to punish players, has created a situation where an injury on the scale of that suffered by Eduardo was just waiting to happen. The real surprise is that such injuries don't happen more often.

Over the last three seasons, the English media has become obsessed with the issue of diving -- particularly by foreign players like Cristiano Ronaldo -- much to the detriment of the far more serious matter of reckless tackling. As far as I'm aware, nobody's career has ever been ended by another player feigning injury. But Eduardo, who is facing the rest of the year on the sidelines after Taylor's career-threatening tackle, is the victim of serious double standards.

Another intriguing aspect of the whole affair has been the way the global media has covered the story, as well as Arsenal's reaction to coverage of the story.

It's been virtually impossible to view any footage of the incident on the Web, thanks to the Premier League's obsession with protecting its copyright. Broadcasters and newspapers have been remarkably squeamish in their reporting of the story, with most refusing to publish pictures of the actual point of contact of Taylor's boot on Eduardo's ankle.

It's a sensitive issue -- in the World Soccer office, we're currently debating whether or not to publish the pictures in our next issue. My feeling is that we should, though I can fully understand why some people might object.

Arsenal acted quickly in reaction to manager Arsène Wenger's heat-of-the-moment comment that Taylor "should never play football again." That evening, Wenger, via a message on Arsenal's Web site, conceded that his comments about Taylor had been "excessive."

Wenger's U-turn and Taylor's apparent remorse at least spared the Birmingham player the wrath of the English media. Overseas, however, it has been a somewhat different story.

The Web site of the Brazilian daily O Globo claimed to have interviewed Eduardo on the telephone from his hospital bed. According the interview, Eduardo accused Taylor of acting with "malicious intent."

Eduardo was quoted as saying: "I don't remember the incident very well and it's not something that I want to see again on television or in the newspapers. All I remember is that when I fell, I looked down at my foot and it had turned the other way. The rest is just a blank."

He was then quoted by O Globo as adding, crucially, "To go in like he did, it had to be with malicious intention."

The same quotes were translated into Spanish and picked up by the Spanish news agency EFE, and the story was duly reported by the Spanish sports daily AS.

Eduardo subsequently issued a statement via the Arsenal Web site where he insisted, perhaps under pressure from the club, that there was no malicious intent on the part of Taylor.

I was immediately suspicious of the O Globo interview, which claimed to have spoken to Eduardo in a London hospital. Aside from the difficulty of actually making phone contact with anybody in hospital, Eduardo was, in fact, taken from St. Andrews stadium to a hospital in Birmingham, not London.

Despite doubts over the veracity of the quotes, they were widely reported in Brazil, and thanks to the EFE story, throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

Rightly or wrongly, the English media has chosen not to report Eduardo's comments to O Globo in full. Reuters, for example, reported some of the quotes, but did not include the controversial "malicious intent" line.

The only thing for sure is that Eduardo's injury itself won't be the end of this debate. Let's just hope he has a speedy recovery.

Gavin Hamilton is the editor in chief of World Soccer Magazine. He contributes to on alternate Tuesdays.

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