GIVEN a few hours to reflect, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger did the right thing in withdrawing his assertion that Birmingham defender Martin Taylor should never play football again.
The injury that Eduardo suffered when Taylor challenged him in the third minute at St Andrew’s yesterday was horrific: anyone with a shred of decency will wish the Croatia international a full recovery.
But I cannot believe that the injury was anything other than a terrible accident. Taylor’s challenge was a bad one, and deserved a red card. The defender does not, though, deserve to be demonised for the rest of his career because of it.
And yet Taylor’s challenge may well have brought his Premier League career to an end anyway, with or without Wenger’s initial (and later withdrawn) condemnation.
Taylor hadn’t played a Premier League game all season – and hadn’t looked likely to – until he was surprisingly recalled for a match against Derby three weeks ago, when injuries forced manager Alex McLeish into a defensive reshuffle.
Up to that point, Taylor had been very much on the fringes at Birmingham, spending a month on loan at Norwich just befor Christmas. The general consensus among those who watch Brum on a regular basis was that Taylor is not good enough to be a regular Premier League centre-half.
McLeish was apparently of the same opinion, having told Taylor in December that he could leave in the January transfer window if a club came in for him.
That the defender was still around at St Andrew’s to return to the first team at the beginning of this month surprised many. That he will now have to live with a challenge which caused an horrific injury to a fellow professional hardly seems a heavy price to pay for that first-team reprieve.
Taylor will, likely as not, leave St Andrew’s in the summer, probably for a Championship club. He is unlikely to get many more first-team chances this season once McLeish has a full squad to choose from once again.
From what McLeish has said of his character, those will probably be the least of Taylor’s worries right now. The defender’s anguish at the seriousness of Eduardo’s injury looked genuine.
Wenger wasn’t the only one who made comments in the heat of the post-match analysis that he may have regretted given a few hours to gather his thoughts.
I suspect that Brum right-back Stephen Kelly might not have made the following comments suggesting that Taylor, nicknamed Tiny, shouldn’t have been sent off at all.
“It was harsh Tiny being sent off,” Kelly said. “Tiny has gone in and it wasn’t a malicious tackle and the reason the ref has sent him off is because he has seen Eduardo has broken his leg.
“I don’t think you can send a player off for that. That’s football. It can happen. It is an accident. Tiny didn’t go in two-footed. He didn’t lunge. He didn’t dive in.”
I can understand what Kelly is getting at – that Eduardo’s injury was a terrible accident rather than the result of any malice. And I can understand his desire to stick up for a team-mate, who at that stage, before Wenger’s retraction, was set up for a national slating.
But his quotes come across as unsympathetic to Eduardo’s plight; something I’m sure Kelly did not intend.
It would be unfair, though, to criticise Kelly, just as it would be unfair to criticise Wenger or Taylor. That’s because accidents – horrific accidents – do happen.