Chris Dunlavy: Why slide tackles are on their last legs

ANY centre-half who has ever been left for dead by Jamie Vardy will tell you the Leicester striker is pretty rapid.

Now OPTA have clocked the England striker hitting 35.4 mph – roughly equivalent to your average racehorse and faster than any other player in the Premier League.

At that speed, even an 11-stone waif like Vardy would hit another player with a force of 2000 Newtons, more than enough to break bones.

Which, in a roundabout way, explains why Luke Shaw’s leg was snapped so grotesquely by a sliding Hector Moreno on Tuesday night. The Man United man will now miss a minimum of six months and, most likely, next summer’s European Championships.

In the aftermath of blood-curdling injuries, everyone wants to string up a culprit. And sometimes, the witch-hunt is justified.

But in this case? I don’t think so – despite what Man United boss Louis van Gaal believes.

“A penalty and a red card,” said the Dutchman. “It was a bad tackle, with two legs.”

You can forgive an emotional van Gaal for going overboard but come on – does anybody really believe that?

Moreno got the ball, accidentally ploughing through Shaw’s planted foot with his trailing leg. In F1 terms, it’s what you’d deem a racing incident.

If Moreno was reckless, so is every player. Nobody ever makes a tackle on the basis of rational thought. Before Moreno leapt into his challenge, did he whip out a calculator and think ‘OK, I’m 12-and-a-half stone, my velocity is 30 miles an hour so I’m going to hit this lad with… let’s see, about 2,500 Newtons’?

Of course not. He saw a black shirt bursting through on goal, had a split second to react and did so instinctively.  Like every player, in every game.

Just last week, I saw Derby’s Chris Baird strapped to a spinal board and carted to the local infirmary after getting knocked spark out in a clash of heads with Joe Garner. Did either of them consider the consequences when they jumped skywards? Then they, too, are reckless.

So can we ever mitigate against leg-breaking challenges?

One option would be to hand out lengthy bans for anyone guilty of causing an injury, irrespective of intent. But while this would probably inhibit headhunters, it’s unlikely to prevent flat-out accidents.

The other is to ban slide tackling altogether, issuing red and yellow cards to anyone caught leaving the ground. As heretical as this sounds, I don’t believe it would change the modern game all that much, with young defenders (just watch John Stones) now taught that staying upright is the gold standard.

History tells us that rules are always changed to favour the attacker. And with players getting faster and stronger – and thus more dangerous – all the time, I am convinced slide tackling will go the way of the backpass in my lifetime.

But until that day comes, we will just have to accept that injuries like Shaw’s – and reckless tackles like Moreno’s – are an intrinsic part of the game.

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