The de Jong disconnect, an analysis

Bruce Arena has spoken on the Nigel de Jong affair and whether you agree with or not, he is worth listening to.

In an interview with reporters on Wednesday, the LA Galaxy head coach said he thought the coverage of de Jong's tackle on Darlington Nagbe in the Galaxy's 1-1 tie with Portland was "hysteria."

"If that was any other player in that tackle," Arena said, "it would not have received the hysteria that it has."

Arena is right that if it wasn't de Jong, Sunday's incident would have likely not received the coverage it has, but who's fault is that?

De Jong is a player who has broken the legs of two international players -- American Stuart Holden and Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa -- and was involved in arguably the most vicious non-call in the history of World Cup finals, his kung-fu kick on Spaniard Xabi Alonso in 2010.

Arena blamed it on "social media" and "people in MLS and in the offices that do that and feed the whole thing" and "journalism." But what does he expect from all of us who spent Sunday night tweeting about happened and what we thought should be done? To ignore what happened is to ignore MLS, the Galaxy and all that Arena has worked on his 40 years of coaching?

The de Jong foul would likely been ignored if it wasn't de Jong -- but also if it didn't happen on national television. By coincidence, the Galaxy-Timbers game was the first MLS of the year on Fox Sports 1 in prime time and drew the network's largest television audience of the season.

As soon as he saw the first replay, analyst Alexi Lalas termed the de Jong challenge "horrible, that is a horrible tackle." To FS1's credit, the game was followed by a postgame show and because the game was in its backyard, at StubHub Center, the show aired live from the stadium. In another coincidence, one of the studio hosts happened to be Holden, whose leg de Jong broke six years ago. Fox Sports even had video of Holden talking with de Jong before the game about the incident. No one was better placed to talk about how Nagbe felt than Holden.

Arena will probably take exception with the latter statement. De Jong broke Holden's leg. Nagbe's ankle was only sprained -- and Arena said Nagbe "probably wasn't hurt on the tackle, which no one has reported."

"Darlington Nagbe is a great kid and a great player," Arena said on Wednesday, "and we certainly don't want him to be injured on a bad tackle. I think it was a mistimed tackle by Nigel. A bad tackle on that play is going to the ground and going over the ball with excessive force. That was not the case on that play. From my understanding of our doctor was that he received a bruise. The ankle injury was there before the game. He had an injured ankle coming into the game. He went down 10 minutes before that."

Sure, "social media" lit up after the de Jong foul -- I probably came across a half dozen polls asking how long de Jong should be suspended -- but the reaction on site, our friends at Fox Sports excepted, was quite muted.

The Los Angeles Times referred to de Jong "stomp" in the last of 21 paragraphs. The Los Angeles Daily News game story did not even mention the de Jong-Nagbe incident. The FourFourTwo game analysis referred to the foul only at the end of a section titled "Nigel de Jong's influence is massive."

The de Jong foul did not come up in the Arena post-game press conference. Timbers coach Caleb Porter was immediately asked about how Nagbe was doing, but he was only asked about the foul in the last question. (He chose to talk about it in terms of how for third straight game the Timbers wouldn't get the benefit of a red card, only issued after the fact.)

As our former Soccer America colleague Scott French noted in his FourFourTwo column, "Many of us sitting in the StubHub press box wondered, at least initially, what the fuss was all about." He wrote "initially" as he later admitted, "My initial judgment, clearly, was off-base: That was a red card, and de Jong should receive a suspension."

Arena said the de Jong affair has been blown out of proportion because everyone wanted to make his Dutchman into a villain. Indeed, Soccer America's Paul Gardner warned about de Jong when he signed with the Galaxy and later wrote about how he would present a problem for MLS referees. But Soccer America also gave de Jong's version of things: "There’s never been a problem in my career." (If de Jong wanted the villain narrative to go away, it was entirely in his power.)

If never being a "problem" meant never being red carded, de Jong was technically correct. He wasn't red carded for the Holden tackle, or the Ben Arfa tackle, like he wasn't red carded for his foot in the chest of Xabi Alonso. (De Jong's only red card in league play in his 14-year European career came, ironically, in his last game for AC Milan in December 2015.)

Likewise, de Jong was only yellow-carded by referee Allen Chapman on Sunday night. But MLS is different. Its Disciplinary Committee is expected to announce that de Jong will be suspended retroactively for three games.

9 comments about "The de Jong disconnect, an analysis".
  1. C Stephans, April 14, 2016 at 7:31 a.m.

    Ridiculous assertion by Arena. The tackle was horrible period.

  2. Peter Mullany, April 14, 2016 at 9:50 a.m.

    Horrific tackle, enough with lame excuses etc. This guy is not what MLS needs and so far shown his rep precedes him, and it's only a few games in.

  3. Kevin Sims, April 14, 2016 at 10:40 a.m.

    Hysteria over tackle a fair assessment ... and a fair reaction. Such a tackle as an isolated moment from a player known to be committed to fair play would have resulted in a modest ripple. Such a tackle from a serial offender who unabashedly knows nothing of fair play duly results in hysteria. I must disagree respectfully with Coach Arena.

  4. James Demastus, April 14, 2016 at 2:23 p.m.

    Bruce is exactly right. Grabavoy did a worse tackle last night against Dallas, and the media doesn't care. Grabavoy doesn't get ratings. Villification of DeJong does.

  5. James Demastus, April 14, 2016 at 2:26 p.m.

    Stuart Holden played roughly 150 matches and broke one opponents bone. DeJong is roughly at 300 and broke 2 bones. Stu Holden was on the same pace and just as dirty.

  6. R2 Dad replied, April 14, 2016 at 4:45 p.m.

    The football world says you are wrong: In December 2013, Spanish football website El Gol Digital ranked De Jong tenth in its list of the world's dirtiest footballers: 10) Nigel De Jong 9) Marco Materazzi, 8) Mark Van Bommel, 7) Roy Keane, 6) Gennaro Gattuso, 5) Luis Suarez, 4) Andoni Goikoetxea, 3) David Navarro, 2) Pepe, 1) Kevin Muscat. This style of play earned him a title as the most violent footballer in the world, according to French newspaper L'Équipe. No American media was referenced in the retort to your trolling.

  7. Joao Santarita, April 14, 2016 at 2:36 p.m.

    Question: How many legs as De Jong broken? . He is a thug ....with a nice and innocent demeanor. Known as the lawnmower and other such nice names. he certainly mows them down
    "During an international friendly on 3 March 2010, De Jong fractured the leg of Bolton Wanderers' American international Stuart Holden as the result of a late challenge.[38] In the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final he kicked Spanish player Xabi Alonso in the chest, a challenge for which De Jong admitted he was lucky not to have received a red card.[39] On 3 October 2010, in a Premier League match against Newcastle United, a tackle by De Jong on Hatem Ben Arfa resulted in the latter being carried off the pitch with a double fracture of his left tibia and fibula.[40] De Jong was later dropped from the Dutch national team for an unspecified period of time, but has since been reprieved.[41]

  8. Ric Fonseca replied, April 14, 2016 at 5:11 p.m.

    Joao, obrigado, gracias and thanks for the detailed info on De Jong. That BArena is "miffed" at the reaction, doesn't surprise me as he always has said that those that complain or speak out against him are just plain jealous and resentful.All I want to ask him, is "no tienes verguenza? or as someone once said, "really have you no shame?"

  9. Wooden Ships replied, April 16, 2016 at 9:08 a.m.

    Agreed Ric. Just because someone has been successful doesn't mean they are good for the game. Bruce didn't grow up steeped in what I would call the beautiful game atmosphere. Unfortunately, he is probably more representative of the majority of US soccer players, coaches and fans.

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