WOLVES manager Mick McCarthy wasn’t too happy to discover he was on the shortlist for the Danny Murphy Villain of the Year Award, sponsored by Injury Lawyers 4 U. (“Have you been involved in an accident at work?”)
Not quite as miffed as Stoke’s Tony Pulis, who responded with a full-frontal attack on Murphy’s motives for including him among the nominees. But the Wolves boss was still miffed enough to describe Murphy’s words as “wrong” and “silly”.
It’s easy to understand where Fulham captain Murphy’s comments – made at the Leaders In Football conference just under a fortnight ago – were coming from.
After all, his side have been on the end of some pretty physical treatment this season against Stoke (Andy Wilkinson clattering Moussa Dembele), Wolves (Karl Henry’s tackle inadvertently breaking Bobby Zamora’s leg) and Blackburn (El-Hadji Diouf barging Mark Schwarzer out of the way in the build-up to a Chris Samba goal).
And there’s been much debate since as to whether English football is becoming a dirtier game. For what it’s worth, I’m with Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, who found himself defending Nigel de Jong over a tackle which accidentally broke Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa’s leg two weeks ago.
“I think these things can happen in football,” Mancini said on Friday. “Today, it is worse than it was 15 years ago, perhaps, because football is a much quicker game.
“But it happens here and it happens in Italy. Sometimes, I would agree that we should pay attention to tackling, because when things like the Ben Arfa incident happen, it is very disappointing.”
There are, perhaps, more bad injuries in the Premier League now because players are fitter, stronger and quicker. So if a player slightly mistimes a tackle now, he’ll be hitting his opponent at a greater speed and with more force – and therefore is likely to do more damage.
It doesn’t mean there’s more malice in the game. What it does mean, as Mancini pointed out, is that players have to take greater care in the way they tackle. Reckless challenges can do more serious damage than they used to.
Some of the raction to Murphy’s outburst has been as over the top as a Karl Henry tackle on Jordi Gomez. I’ve seen a couple of columnists question the veracity of Murphy’s comments, then contradict themselves by suggesting he will get special treatment when he next faces Wolves, Stoke or Blackburn.
(Really? You think Pulis, McCarthy or Sam Allardyce would be daft enough to tell their players to, erm, get after Murphy? Or that their players would be daft enough to try? With all the TV cameras there are at Premier League games? Sure, Murphy will get some barracking from the fans of those clubs, maybe some verbal stick from the players too, but I’m sure he can handle that.)
While Pulis’ anger was totally understandable – as was that of McCarthy and Allardyce – I wasn’t entirely sure that he was justified in suggesting that Murphy picked on soft targets to avoid damaging a potential career as a media pundit. (I would never question Pulis’ comments to his face, though, as he’s harder than me and, quite frankly, I’m scared of him.)
Pulis’ argument was that Murphy didn’t want to offend the Premier League’s bigger clubs, and so avoided mentioning De Jong’s leg-breaker and a horrendous opening weekend tackle by Liverpool’s Joe Cole on Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny.
But if Murphy was trying to protect his media career, it didn’t work, because he had to pull out of punditing on ITV’s live coverage of England v Montenegro last week as a result of what he said.
And anyway, the whole “soft targets” argument is a bit shaky when you consider that Pulis is the manager of mid-table Stoke, having a pop at the captain of mid-table Fulham. Murphy may have been a significant figure in English football for more than a decade, but he’s not exactly Sir Alex Ferguson, or even Roy Hodgson.
Murphy has since suggested that his quotes were taken out of context, and blown wildly out of proportion. So let’s take a look at the offending sentence (again, out of context).
“You get managers who are sending out their teams to stop other teams playing, which is happening more and more – the Stokes, Blackburns, Wolveses,” Murphy said.
Ah, now I see the problem. There’s more than one Wolves. Murphy was probably referring to other Wolveses.
Last night’s final match: Wolves 1 West Ham 1
Commentator: Steve Bower (it always seems to be Steve Bower these days)
Whichever Wolves it is that McCarthy manages went into this game without Henry (suspended) and with the Premier League’s worst disciplinary record.
And guess what? For only the second time this season, Wolves got through a game with no bookings. And do you know who the other game was against? Stoke.
Wolves’ only significant indiscretion of the game came when Kevin Foley’s foul on Victor Obinna allowed Mark Noble to cancel out Matt Jarvis’ first-half opener from the penalty spot.
McCarthy was asked about the lack of yellow cards in his MOTD post-match interview.
“I asked all the lads to go out today and knock seven bells out of everybody as well, like I normally do,” he told Steve Bower, barely pausing for breath. “Shame that, isn’t it? They go out there and play free-flowing football and we’re rampant for 45 minutes. What they hell were they playing at?”
Cheer up, Mick. At least you’re top of the Gubbometer again. Just don’t tell Marcus Hahnemann.
1. Wolves: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2. Fulham: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
3=. Bolton: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
3=. Wigan: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
5. West Ham: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
6=. Everton: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
6=. West Brom: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
8. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
9. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
10=. Birmingham: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
10=. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
12. Stoke: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
13. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
14. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
15. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
16=. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
16=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
16=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
19=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
19=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (Aston Villa 0 Chelsea 0)
3L=On third last (Newcastle 2 Wigan 2)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in a Chilean mine, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Tony Gubba, Yonni Barrios, Yonni Barrios’ mistress and Mrs Barrios, with music from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.)