Arsene Wenger's initial reaction to the foul by Birmingham's Martin Taylor that inflicted multiple fractures on Arsenal forward Eduardo's leg was that Taylor should be banned for life. While others came to Taylor's defense -- claiming the cleats-up lunge was unintentional and that he did not have a record of thuggish play -- the incident has forced a reexamination of the English league's attitude toward reckless tackling.
In the postgame interview, Wenger said: "I think this guy [Taylor] should never play football again. ... The tackle was horrendous and unforgivable. When these tackles happen, they always say that he is not that sort of player. But you only have to kill someone once and you have a dead person."
Wenger later toned down: "On reflection, I feel that my comments about Martin Taylor were excessive. I said what I did immediately after the game in the heat of the moment. It was a highly emotional afternoon and we were all shocked by the injury to Eduardo."
Eduardo, a 24-year-old Brazilian who plays for the Croatian national team, was fouled by Taylor three minutes into Saturday's game. Taylor was ejected.
The Arsenal Web site reported on Sunday that Eduardo underwent surgery on Saturday evening and that he suffered breaks to his shin, fibula and ankle.
"Martin's not a dirty player," said Birmingham manager Alex McLeish. "He's distraught over Eduardo's injury."
Some TV pundits, such as former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen, also defended Taylor, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound defender who's nickname is "Big Tiny."
"It's early on in the game, he's trying to find his feet, and he nearly gets the ball but Eduardo just nips it away from him," said Hansen. "It is a red card, he mistimed the tackle, but the only person that can tell you if there is real intent is the player himself."
Martin Taylor's wife, Viki, was quoted as saying, "Look, he's not like that. He's just a gentle giant."
But there's no doubt that Taylor went into the tackle with his cleats up. In an interview from the hospital with EFE news agency, Eduardo was quoted as saying, "... To make the tackle like he did, that can only be with bad intention."
International Herald Tribune columnist Rob Hughes cited a quote from Graeme Souness when he was Taylor's coach at Blackburn in 2002.
"For Tiny, being physical is an area where he is short," Souness said. "With a body like he has, I want him to be a bully. But he is too nice -- he is perfect son-in-law material, but I don't want a team of son-in-laws!"
Hughes wrote that, "Those comments seem to encompass the ethos of the British approach to the sport it gave to the world. The emphasis on physical aggression comes at a cost of ball skills, and is a reason why England is not going to the European championships. It was eliminated by Croatia's quality, and by Eduardo's goals."
Patrick Barclay's article in the Telegraph on the incident was headlined, "Football's rulers allowing brutality to flourish." He writes that the English officials' permissive attitude toward reckless tackles makes the Taylor-Eduardo incident come as little surprise:
"More than three years ago, I wrote that the refereeing regime headed by Keith Hackett, himself a former official at England's top level, was too permissive and that dangerous tackles were being inadequately punished in the interests of 'managing the game' so that dismissals were kept to a minimum. ...
"Years of worrying about relatively trivial matters like diving -- the media have been as guilty as anyone of setting a fool's agenda -- had allowed wild tackles to acquire an air of semi-legitimacy."
Barclay also faults the English FA's policy of setting a three-game ban as the maximum punishment for a red-card tackle.
"Martin Taylor may have been to blame for yesterday's incident ... but the whole football establishment in this country is guilty," Barclay writes. "Other players have kicked fellow professionals out of the game this season. It is intolerable. If football will not police itself, the police may have to do it for them - and what a disgrace that would represent."
So gruesome was the Eduardo's injury that Sky TV did not show a replay.
"The reaction of Cesc Fabregas told me it was a bad injury so I quickly looked at the replay," said Sky match director Grant Best. "That told me it was a very bad injury and we weren't going to show it. It looked like his foot was hanging from his leg. It is the most horrific injury I have seen in 13 years of working in football ..."