It doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times you watch it. The way he lands, his instinctive reaction to assess the damage, the split second where you just hope your first suspicions might be wrong. But then Shane Long is cradling Séamus Coleman’s head and that is the point when you don’t need confirmation from any doctor or press officer. You know it’s snapped, you know that’s him done.
And, deep down, you know this is one of those occasions – “a good old British game”, to use the jarring words of Chris Coleman – when a certain level of aggression is considered OK, mandatory even, and the people demanding it usually just assume everybody will be able to walk off at the end. “Heavy-metal football,” the Irish Times called it: all thrash, not enough melody. The kind of game, in other words, when players do cross the line, behaviour-wise, and the risk of getting hurt is higher than usual – often wrapped up in the guise of “passion”.
That is not to excuse the wild, flailing challenge from Neil Taylor that inflicted the damage and, whatever the scale of professional shame and remorse that must be swimming through his mind right now, it isn’t easy to find too much in the way of sympathy for the Wales left-back. For all the character references, there is no pride to be had for anyone who shatters a fellow professional’s leg.
The bottom line is there can be no mitigation for what happened in Dublin on Friday. But there must be an explanation and maybe, in the process, there is a lesson for any of us who likes to think there are certain fixtures, the Republic of Ireland against Wales being one, when different standards should apply and the two sets of players should somehow be allowed to get away with more.
In the buildup to the game, it was widely circulated that Ireland needed to be physical. They needed what is known, in football parlance, as “a reducer”. More than anything, they needed a moment to let Gareth Bale know he was in for a difficult night. Roy Keane, whose equivalent on Marc Overmars is remembered as one of the all-time Lansdowne Road moments, had said it might be an idea. Wales must have known, therefore, that it was going to be a battle. Their manager would have made it clear they had to hold their own.
And so it transpired. Glenn Whelan planted a forearm into the jaw of Joe Allen, a colleague at Stoke City, before half-time and played part of the match with a bandaged head after taking a kick from Aaron Ramsey. Long clattered Ashley Williams, who had dealt out some rough treatment to Jon Walters, and James McClean was the Ireland player who introduced himself, with interest, to Bale.
“Are you saying all the bad challenges were from us?” Chris Coleman asked afterwards in a defiant, bristling press conference. And nobody in the audience who wanted to challenge the Wales manager, or take exception to his talk of “a typical British derby”, could raise their hand to argue that Martin O’Neill’s team had been entirely innocent.
The truth is these kind of hostilities are almost expected on certain football occasions. It is part of the Irish culture and, if it wasn’t, Roy Keane would not be as revered as he is and the Overmars moment – from the day in 2001 when Mick McCarthy’s team qualified for the World Cup at the expense of Holland and Louis van Gaal – would not be remembered with the same fondness.
This still doesn’t excuse what happened on Friday but it might offer some context when trying to understand why John O’Shea needed his leg stitching because of Bale’s flying studs. Or why, a minute or so later, Taylor – a player of 28 with only one previous red card and no reputation for this kind of recklessness – made the wretched, split-second decision to dive in, shin high, for a ball he never stood any chance of getting.
Maybe, even subconsciously, Taylor felt it was expected of him to leave something on his opponent. If so, he made a terrible mistake. But it was one of the themes of the night and he had just seen Bale – the player everyone else in the Wales team looks up to – do likewise. Now it was his turn and once he launched himself into the air, it became a fallacy for anyone – Chris Coleman, Dean Saunders and all the rest – to argue he was “not that type of player”, the default-setting response in any cases of these nature. It might have been out of character but Taylor evidently is that type of player: just look at the evidence.
The only hope for the recipient of this assault, staring down at the sight of his bone jutting out of his sock, is that medical techniques are so advanced these days it need not be as serious as it would have been in the past – and, ironically, Taylor will know about that bearing in mind he broke his leg in a game for Swansea City against Sunderland in September 2012. Taylor found a way back within seven months and, if there is one thing in Séamus Coleman’s favour, it is that he has the robust personality that will be needed on the long rehabilitation programme.
Nobody, however, can really be sure about the effect it will have on his career, both with Everton and Ireland. Some footballers – Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal, for one – come back from leg-breaks without any deterioration in their performances. Yet plenty of others are not so fortunate.
Alan Smith, then at Manchester United, was never the same player after the freakish injury he suffered blocking a John Arne Riise free-kick at Anfield in 2006. Luke Shaw has not found it easy, mentally or physically, since that night in September 2015 playing for United against PSV Eindhoven when his leg was shattered in two places, and Coleman may be aware about how difficult it was for the young Ross Barkley to overcome a double fracture of his own in Everton’s academy system. David Moyes, the club’s manager at the time, used to regard Barkley as the closest he had ever seen to Norman Whiteside, utterly fearless in his tackling, but the injury changed him for ever. When Barkley did start playing again, those combative qualities had been diminished.
For what it is worth, Taylor looked sickened when he left the pitch and, at the end of the match, when the other players came into the dressing room they found him on the floor, covering his face with his hands. He can expect, and deserves, a lengthy ban from Uefa and, over time, perhaps there will be more forgiveness for him. Yet there is only one true victim of a leg-breaker and the person in question is currently lying in a hospital bed. For the player responsible, it is a stain on his career that will never properly wash out.
Hodgson still blind to England failings
Roy Hodgson appears to be in some form of prolonged denial judging by his rather huffy insistence that many of the criticisms of his tactics during Euro 2016 were “purely irrelevant and dishonest”.
Hodgson had just been asked about the misgivings surrounding, for instance, his judgment that Harry Kane was the right man to take corners. “They are nonsense,” the former England manager said. “People should be ashamed of those things. Why shouldn’t Harry Kane take corners? If he happens to be the best striker of a ball in the team and gives you the best delivery why shouldn’t he do it?”
In an interview with The Big Issue, Hodgson added: “I was totally uninterested in those type of comments, which I regard as purely irrelevant and dishonest. No one whose opinion I respect would have said anything like that, otherwise I would have heard about it.”
Except, of course, he could also have seen it with his own eyes. England’s players were so bemused that Kane was being deployed to take corners, rather than trying to head them in, they decided between themselves to defy the manager’s instructions. Wayne Rooney duly took over and the first Hodgson – looking visibly put out – knew about it was when the change was put into practice during the Wales game. “Roy decided for Harry to take corners but I felt at the time that he was the top goalscorer in the Premier League,” Rooney later explained. “He [Kane] is a big lad in the box and I felt I probably should have been taking them anyway. He is probably better in the air than me and he had been scoring a lot of goals.”
This isn’t the reason why England went out to Iceland but it certainly isn’t usual for players to overrule their manager, particularly without bothering to let him know, and Hodgson’s analysis contains a startling lack of humility for a manager who has overseen possibly the most embarrassing result in the team’s history.
According to Hodgson, those in the know – “people who work within the game”, he notes sniffily – realise what he did with England ought to be a source of great pride rather than regret, never mind the fact it also involved a six-day World Cup. “I think it is probably the best work, in many ways, that I did, or have done so far.” Unfortunately, if it really was the outstanding piece in his portfolio, that might explain why there has been hardly a stampede of clubs offering him a way back.
FA rewriting Gradi’s history
Dario Gradi, the director of football at Crewe Alexandra, is apparently putting together an appeal against his suspension from the Football Association and asking around for character references.
Gradi’s long association at Crewe, one of the clubs implicated in football’s sexual abuse scandal, goes back to 1983, including 24 years and more than 1,200 games as manager. He has not been allowed to take part in any football activities since 25 November and his enforced absence could last considerably longer if the FA decides he should not return until the outcome of its independent inquiry.
In the meantime, it also appears the FA wants to distance itself from the man who has been described as “Mr Crewe”. Gradi’s photograph has been removed from the walls of St George’s Park and, visiting Burton last week, it also became apparent his name has been wiped off a separate display for the FA Licensed Coaches’ Club’s hall of fame.
Gradi was inducted in 2014, along with Sue Lopez, after being given a lifetime contribution award. That section now includes only Lopez; the telltale clue being that whoever was given the job of airbrushing out Gradi left in the comma after her name.
Sorry seems to be the hardest word
There was one problem with the statement from the Football Association chairman, Greg Clarke, condemning the behaviour of England’s supporters in Germany last Wednesday: why did it not include an apology to their hosts?