There’s nothing wrong with a bit of combative edge out on the pitch, but that’s where it should stay…
“Us players are supposed to dish it out for 90 minutes. It’s up to the referee to decide what is and isn’t a foul. Then, once the game ends, it should all finish right there and then. Going up against a great champion like Cavani, giving each other hell for 90 minutes then being able to walk off as opponents who respect one another is the beauty of sport.”
I read this quote from Juventus’ Giorgio Chiellini a few weeks back and was so impressed that I made a note to jot it down. He was speaking after a match against Napoli, during which he and Edison Cavani had physically pummeled each other from start to finish, and while I didn’t know when or if I would ever have an opportunity to call upon the Italian’s wise words, they were refreshing in the modern game where there seems to be increasingly less mutual respect between opponents.
Then last week myself and Andrew McKirdy of The Japan Times were invited onto J-Sports’ “Foot!” to discuss the J1 match between Omiya Ardija and Kashima Antlers and I was reminded of Chiellini’s comments.
Ordinarily it isn’t possible to pick up on all of the nuances of the games I watch from the stands, and it is usually only the key moments which leave an impression. However, my concentration levels were far higher at NACK5 knowing I was going to be asked to dissect the game afterwards.
While I am certainly in no danger of becoming a blackboard aficionado in the style of Foot! Tuesday’s Ben Mabley, I have to admit it was interesting to run such a fine toothcomb through the action, and also – upon reviewing the DVD of the match the next morning – to see how many details get misremembered when you only see them live once.
One of the incidents that I didn’t have any trouble recalling, though, was the clash between Antlers’ striker Davi and Ardija’s young centre-back Shohei Takahashi just before full-time.
There had been a couple of minor comings-together between the two as the game wore on, the last of which prompted the Brazilian to flick a hand into his opponent’s chest. Takahashi pondered what had happened for a second before crumbling to the floor, supposedly in a bid to have his assailant sent off.
That was never likely considering the pettiness of the whole incident, and the situation was swiftly diffused as players from both sides gathered around and Davi laughed off Takahashi’s complaint and reaction.
Prior to that I had actually been paying closer attention to an intriguing battle towards the other penalty area as Daiki Iwamasa and Yu Hasegawa frequently clashed, clattered and bickered with each other whenever the ball was within range (and sometimes even when it wasn’t).
While those two kept the referee busy it never looked like it would boil over into anything malicious though, and speaking to Hasegawa after the match he confirmed as much.
“I like to play like that,” he said. “It’s all part of the game.”
He concluded by pointing out that he and Iwamasa are on good terms and that the words they exchanged as Hasegawa was substituted with 19 minutes to play were not combative but congratulatory, on a battle well fought.
It wasn’t at this point that I was reminded of Chiellini, however, but instead the next day when we were recapping what had gone on between Davi and Takahashi.
It turned out the incident hadn’t been quickly resolved, and Takahashi had maintained his grudge beyond the final whistle, petulantly slapping Davi’s hand away instead of shaking it as it was proffered.
Plenty of giving hell there but very little respect, and certainly no champions.
Takahashi, of course, is still young and in the heat of the moment it is not always easy to keep your emotions in check. Even so, hopefully his coach or captain have had a quiet word and told him to cut back on that side of things and focus more on what he is good at – which on the evidence of his overall performance and, in particular, Beckenbauer-esque run and assist for Omiya’s vital second goal in the same game, is playing football.