The latest, a ridiculous challenge from Rory Delap which left a Crawley Town player with a deep gash, was a deserved red card.
Pulis has been apoplectic of late, as his team are red carded every time one of his players launches into a reckless tackle (and that’s quite a frequent occurrence). But the opposition aren’t getting the same treatment when they put similar challenges in against Stoke, such as the Tino Costa one when they played Valencia in the week or Pavel Pogrebnyak against Fulham last weekend. It is quite an irony, watching Pulis complain about other teams not having players red carded for clearly dangerous fouls then questioning why his players have to go off when they make equally poor challenges. Then again, he does have a point about consistency. Though the god of irony may chuckle at Stoke being on the end of serious foul play. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer team,” he may offer as a word of wisdom to the god of justice.
The other week so incensed was Pulis that Robert Huth was red carded after a frankly disgraceful challenge against Sunderland that he sent a photo to Match of the Day showing Huth trying to pull out of the tackle. The rules making bodies could retort by showing Pulis a copy of law 12 of FIFA’s statutes. This says that “using excessive force” is a red card offence.
Pulis is either ignorant, or illiterate, as he still has not grasped this very basic and simple aspect of the rulebook. Huth’s challenge was completely reckless, flying in with such force that even when he did apply his brain for a split second to consider that his opponent may appreciate not being speared with his studs, he was still going so fast that he could not be considered in control of his body and therefore, posed a serious risk to the safety of the Sunderland player. That, according to the rules, is excessive force, and a red card. It was such a bad challenge that even Sunderland players were incensed. And this is a team with Lee Cattermole, who wrote the book on reckless tackles.
And so the team, Stoke, who gave us the “he’s not that kind of a player” defence when Ryan Shawcross injured his third Arsenal player in just three seasons of Premier League football. One of those, Emmanuel Adebayor, was not even on the field of play when Shawcross scythed into him from behind, the archetypal display of cowardice if ever it were witnessed. Striking when the opponent is not looking, nor even on the pitch.
As the comedian Dara O’Briain eloquently put it after the Ramsey incident: “He broke a man’s leg. It doesn’t actually matter if he meant to or not. Stop telling us what a lovely guy he is.”
Pulis probably won’t stop defending his players, and it makes you wonder what they have to do to receive some criticism from what must be the least objective manager in the league. Even those who have written the rule book on not seeing their own player’s worst digressions, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger, occasionally admit wrongdoing on the part of their men. Pulis seems to see nothing wrong with anything any of his team do, yet perhaps it is not surprising he is so defensive. He is defending, and is one of the last to do so – a dying breed. His type of football is becoming extinct. In the Premier League, only Stoke, Aston Villa and Sunderland are teams who don’t like to pass the ball and who seem to play direct, long ball football and have players who launch into tackles to ‘show a man he is there.’ And Villa are fed up with Alex McLeish already. With referees getting better, albeit very slowly, at clamping down on what can fairly be described as ‘The Stoke Challenge,’ Pulis’ team will soon struggle.
Where once the likes of Bolton and Stoke came up and survived with this type of football, now there is a new breed. Swansea, Norwich, West Brom…teams who play with the ball on the floor, are committed by fair. Teams whose players will harass their opponents off the ball with energy, commitment and drive, but who do not cross the line and launch into reckless challenges, and when they get the ball, come away with it and play it with composure and skill on the floor. Much like Scott Parker, the best example of the modern English player. Committed, always hassling his opponents to win the ball back, but fair, skilful and composed in possession.
Not that Pulis would have any idea what a fair challenge would be, even if the FIFA rule book was thrown in his face.