Posted on: Mon 16 Oct 2006

Neil Barnett has been writing, editing and broadcasting for Chelsea for over 20 years. This week he responds to the challenges which injured Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini.

Reading vs Chelsea was not 102 minutes as has been reported. It was 107. The second-half clock started at 45 minutes and continued for 12 of stoppage time.


But the first-half contained five minutes of stoppage time. That is 17 in all. This was no normal match.


The subsequent questions that the public need to ask are the following.


1. Can two serious head injuries in one game to goalkeepers be a coincidence?


2. Shouldn't footballers exercise a duty of care towards fellow professionals and was this practised at Reading on Saturday?


3. Would those challenges which injured the Chelsea goalkeepers have been acceptable overseas ? in other words were they old fashioned 'English' challenges which the world game has long found unacceptable?


4. Would they have been fouls in any other part of the pitch?


Before Jose Mourinho made his post-match comments he went and studied the video footage. At no stage thereafter did he suggest that Steve Hunt deliberately injured Petr Cech. But if you apply Questions 2, 3 and 4 to Hunt's challenge, what answers do you get?


In English football more than any other it is acceptable to test an opponent physically, to hang a leg in to see what will happen, to let them know you are there.


On television on Saturday night we could witness an appalling two-footed tackle on Wayne Rooney go unwhistled. But at Reading we saw two deserved sendings off for 'cheating', pulling back an opponent when beaten.


In England we get some things right and some things wrong. We don't like cheats. But we still don't protect footballers. Maybe the latter is one reason why we don't win anything as a nation. Maybe we don't ensure that our footballers exercise a duty of care to fellow players as FIFA would like.


It's garbage to suggest that you can't be physical if you can't tackle like in England as compared to abroad. John Terry tackles, but he does it properly. That is why he has never been sent off playing for Chelsea. On Saturday at Reading in an outstanding performance, sadly overlooked because of the injuries, Khalid Boulahrouz showed that he knows how to tackle. He looked an excellent central defender.


I thought Jose was kind to Ibrahima Sonko for his challenge on Carlo Cudicini. It was wild. He wasn't looking at the ball. It wasn't malicious, he was looking for an equaliser, but it was wild. It caused serious injury. It didn't show a duty of care.


I thought he was kind to Reading as well. Their game reminded me of the 1980s when English football hit an all time low, of lump and run, of challenge and challenge, of Wimbledon and Watford and? sorry, Steve Coppell, but of Crystal Palace.


FIFA has taken a lot of stick down the years for its changes to the rules, or to the interpretation of the rules, but it has frequently been proved right. The tackle from behind was correctly outlawed. Goalkeepers picking up back passes were correctly stopped. The game has become better as a result. And wild challenges and challenges on the floor have been unacceptable.


Were Hunt's and Sonko's challenges really acceptable, or were they part of a culture that accepts that accidents happen and are part of the game? If they were the latter, that is a pretty sick culture.


The game became so wild on Saturday that Carlo Cudicini was left lying unconscious while the action continued around him. The referee only whistled up once Didier Drogba had kicked the ball away from the goal.


It is true that collisions do happen. It is true that accidents do happen. It could even be freakishly true that two goalkeepers could sustain serious head injuries during one game and that nothing be wrong with the game or the culture.


But if there is not a thorough investigation into the match and review of the culture when such an incident happens, then the whole sport is being irresponsible. What happened to Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini in the same 107 minutes must never happen to two goalkeepers again.


Now take another look at those challenges!