Editors Note: This article originally ran at A Football Report. Eric Beard, the author of the piece, is the Editor-In-Chief of that site.
Fulham fans are a lively bunch. You don’t hear too many people bashing the way Fulham goes about with their business. So when the 20,000 Cottagers chanted “Disgrace to the Premier League” about Mick McCarthy’s Wolverhampton Wanderers, there was reason behind the gesture. Not only had Wolves earned six yellow cards and a red, but Fulham’s living legend Bobby Zamora had his right leg broken by Wolves captain Karl Henry and won’t be back on the pitch for about four months..
Fulham managed to pull themselves together and fight back from 1-nil down to win 2-1 in injury time. But three points isn’t enough to compensate for four Zamora-less months. And the Fulham players knew that, as Clint Dempsey came right up to Karl Henry and verbally abused him like only a part-athlete, part-rapper could do. Clint’s colourful language essentially accused Henry of deliberately breaking Zamora’s ankle. Surely it’s a serious declaration to accuse a fellow professional of hurting another internationally, but did Dempsey’s outrage have merit?
“It was disappointing that a few of them were trying to have a go at me,” Henry said in The Sun. “They were fine with it until they realised how badly hurt he was, which was a load of rubbish because I would never do anything deliberately to hurt anybody.
“It was disappointing. I was having a go at Clint and he was having a go at me. I don’t want to hear from another professional that I have gone out to do somebody. That wasn’t the case. I am sure if you have seen it, it was a fair tackle and I have tried to win the ball.”
The tackle in itself, to be fair, was not malicious. But like any professional, I’m sure Dempsey had watched the way Wolves, and in particular Henry, play. It doesn’t take a tactical mastermind to see that Henry is a calamitous presence on the pitch. In Wolves’ last game against Newcastle, Karl Henry was man marking Joey Barton, but his mentality resembled that of a hitman. Going in with one studs up tackle after another, Henry was trying to stop Barton, arguably Newcastle’s most influential player at St. James’ Park.
Is it actually impressive that Barton completed the full 90 under these circumstances, and not surprising that one of Fulham’s players was unable to because of Henry. Indeed, Karl Henry is Arsene Wenger’s antichrist. Ugly football at its worst. Rashness and anger ruling over finesse and skill.
“We know what this league is like. It is a footballing league and people want to see pretty football. No one wants to see us come in and get competitive. It is a side of the game that maybe people don’t want to see any more. They just want to see the pretty football,” said Henry.
Now I like a well-timed, stuck in tackle as much as the next guy, but there’s a fine line between competitiveness and going on the pitch to prevent “pretty football” from being played. But back to Dempsey’s accusation.
Was Dempsey really saying “why did you break Bobby’s leg?” or was he rather insinuating “what makes you think you can be on the same pitch as Bobby, or me for that matter, with your mindset?” Bobby Zamora was on the cusp of an England call-up and Clint Dempsey is a star for the United States; they are established professionals. These men are unequivocally better than Henry at football. Dempsey knows it, too.
In one of the best leagues in the world, is it not abhorrent to know that the players with less class choose to stay competitive through physicality and intimidation rather than self-improvement? If I were a world-class footballer, why would I want to play in a league where this mentality is so prevalent?
The Premier League did not establish itself through the lowest common denominator principle, but rather by trying to play good, attacking football. The irony in England is that so often the weak resort to physicality rather than “pretty football” tactics. Blackpool manager Ian Holloway has admirably insisted that he will not take this ugly route, but rather do the Premier League justice by creating a spectacle.
Holloway is taking the Michael Scott approach to the Premier League. That is, “would I rather be feared or loved? Um… Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”
Kyle Henry has taken to fear rather than love. But this fear is not a “he might injure me” fear, but rather a “this man’s approach to football is so pathetic that he wants to destroy the entire foundation of beautiful football the Premier League has evolved into.” Karl, I think you’ll find that Drogba will have a couple of carefully chosen words for you when Wolves travel to Stamford Bridge.
Eric Beard is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of A Football Report, and a frequent guest contributor to The Yanks Are Coming. He can be found on Twitter at @afootballreport.