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In Good Conscience

Taking consequence into account is a foul-up

Fifa is treading on shaky ground in the application of its own laws.

It has instigated disciplinary proceedings against Wales defender Neil Taylor over the foul tackle that broke the tibia and fibula in Ireland full-back Seamus Coleman's right leg last week.

Taylor was sent off, the only thing the Italian referee could do.

The offender receives a mandatory one-match ban. But Fifa's retrospective act is likely to extend punishment by at least two more national team games, possibly more.

This column is not soft on career-threatening foul play. I plead guilty to harbouring unforgiving thoughts towards the man who crushed my right knee, so ending whatever playing career I might have had, even though it was too many years ago to matter now.

Taylor showed remorse. He tried to visit Coleman in hospital in Dublin, and later telephoned him. That was more than "my" tackler ever offered because, in those days, we were meant to be men, and to give and take the hard stuff.

Wales defender Neil Taylor (right) receiving his marching orders after fouling Ireland's Seamus Coleman during a World Cup qualifier. His tackle left the defender with a double leg break.
Wales defender Neil Taylor (right) receiving his marching orders after fouling Ireland’s Seamus Coleman during a World Cup qualifier. His tackle left the defender with a double leg break. PHOTO: REUTERS

If Taylor says he meant no malice, who can prove intent? Certainly it was reckless. And sadly, the consequence for Coleman, one of the best and fairest players in the game, is a long, painful rehabilitation.

Should we welcome Fifa's disciplinary response to Taylor's foul?

The flaw in it, the shakiness, is that Fifa appears to be preparing to punish on the consequence, rather than the deed.

Can any committee, any player, manager, doctor or shrink, presume to know whether Taylor's foul was premeditated?

Wayne Rooney described it as "horrible" on Twitter.

Yet if Taylor says he meant no malice, who can prove intent?

Certainly it was reckless. And sadly, the consequence for Coleman, one of the best and fairest players in the game, is a long, painful rehabilitation.

The bones should heal. Full recuperation of the limb may take six months. After that, it is in the lap of the gods how long Coleman takes to regain full and fearless cavalier running from full-back to wing.

Everton will ensure he gets first-class care. But Coleman knows, indeed Neil Taylor knows, that an athlete may never be the same again after such serious injury.

The clock ticks. Both players are 28. Taylor lost eight months of his career after suffering a broken ankle playing against Sunderland five years ago.

We should forget the trite remarks, from the Wales manager Chris Coleman and others, that "Taylor is not like that" and would never harm a fellow pro on purpose.

Fifa should look at the context of the match. It was a World Cup qualifying game, goalless but attritional from the start.

Earlier in the contest, Ireland's Glenn Whelan elbowed Wales' Joe Allen in the throat. They are club-mates at Stoke City, but that didn't stop Whelan leading with the sharp point.

There was a knee-high lunge at John O'Shea by, of all people, Gareth Bale, the archangel of Wales.

Where did all this "edge" come from?

If Fifa is serious about examining cause and effect, it might refer back to the pre-match press conference by Ireland's assistant manager.

He just happens to be Mr Roy Keane.

Yes, that Keane, of Manchester United fame. He is one of the few, perhaps the only player, ever to go into print admitting to intentionally ruining the career of an opponent.

Keane had suffered cruciate ligament damage when he tried to kick Alf-Inge Haaland in 1997. As the United warrior lay on the ground, Haaland bent over him accusing him of faking injury.

Four years later, Keane hit Haaland with a knee-high tackle during the Manchester derby. And later, in his autobiography, Keane wrote: "I'd waited long enough. I f****** hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c***. And don't ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries."

The FA later extended Keane's suspension by five matches and fined him £150,000 (S$261,100). Others lionised his honesty.

When Keane was asked before last week's Ireland-Wales game how the Irish should prepare against Bale, he replied: "The basic advice to any player if you're up against a world-class player: Somebody get to him as quick as you can, don't let him get his head up like he does at Real Madrid, don't give him space in behind because the boy can run and tackle him.

"Hit him… fairly. Tackling is part of the bloody game."

Liam Brady, a more constructive Irish player of the past, believed last week's game became a war of attrition because Wales probably spoke at half-time of "being roughed up, and giving it back".

Might Fifa take that into account?

Fifa has tried in the past to get inside the players' minds. Before the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa, the chief Fifa's medical officer Michel D'Hooghe put together a DVD of horrific fouls.

He showed it to me before the tournament, and showed it to the referees before the tournament.

That World Cup final was disfigured by grievous bodily harm. The worst, before half -time, was a karate kick by Nigel de Jong into the ribs of Xabi Alonso.

The English referee Howard Webb showed a yellow card to de Jong, just as he did to almost the entire Dutch team that, very obviously, set out to "rough up" the best team on earth.

With such a legacy, and D'Hooghe's mission treated with such impunity, is it surprising we are where we are?

Taylor's foul might not even have been the worst of last week.

When Hibernian fought to another goal-less draw against Greenock Morton in Scotland, the game finished with a melee between both sides and both managers after a Morton substitute, London-born Kudus Oyenuga, leapt at Hibs' Jordon Forster with both feet off the ground.

Forster was hit, but nothing was broken because he saw the foul coming and tried to hurdle the outstretched boot. Slowing down the two fouls of Taylor and Oyenuga down on video playback, I would not care to say which was worse.

However, if Fifa takes action on one, it should also investigate the other. Punish the reckless fouls, not the consequence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Taking consequence into account is a foul-up'. Print Edition | Subscribe