Why is the niggling defender the one protected not the niggled forward?

Sergio Aguero’s foul on David Luiz can’t be condoned, but the defender’s sly elbow just before went unpunished

Sergio Aguero’s now infamous foul on David Luiz. Little was made of the defender’s sly elbow which provoked it. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Sergio Aguero’s now infamous foul on David Luiz. Little was made of the defender’s sly elbow which provoked it. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire.


At about 1pm outside Wembley stadium last Sunday, a short, stout man stood adjacent to the corporate entrance beneath the famous Wembley walkway and awaited news from two friends, presumably on the state of his tickets for the Chelsea-Manchester City FA Cup semi-final. He was wearing a long black coat, had greying hair and looked as if he could handle himself. And he could. It was Ron Harris.

Around five hours later there was quite a kerfuffle over a challenge by City’s Sergio Aguero on Chelsea’s David Luiz. Aguero jumped two-footed into Luiz and caught him, though not badly.

There was an eruption of tut-tutting about this, not least from Luiz, who would emerge from the losers’ dressingroom to say: “Aguero is a great player but he needs to be honest with himself and say, ‘I don’t like to do bad tackles’.”

Two days later, via Twitter naturally, Aguero responded.

“I’ve contacted @DavidLuiz-4 and apologized for what happened during the match,” Aguero said. “It was an impulse reaction that shouldn’t have happened”.

Gracious Luiz accepted the apology and noted it marked out Aguero as a man.

This is more than can be said for David Luiz. In acknowledging Aguero’s honesty, Luiz calmly pulled down the blind on the knowing and aggressive elbow he placed across Aguero’s upper body in the seconds immediately prior to Aguero’s lunge.

‘Part of the game’
In Luiz’s mind, that may not have happened. In Luiz’s mind, that may be “part of the game”.

Defenders seem to think this way. At all levels they seem to think they can launch themselves at forwards, wingers, attacking midfielders and get away with it in the name of defending.

When they are not so blatant as in the case of Luiz’ elbow, they think they can push, pull and sneak their way through games. Stoke City’s Robert Huth is a template defender in this regard.

Once an attacker responds, the same defenders can then get quite aggrieved, as poor Luiz has shown.

Huth is another ready to act the injured soul when a forward has the temerity to reply physically to the constant tug and tussle of defenders such as him.

Last season, Huth’s manager at Stoke, Tony Pulis, complained about the red card shown to Huth for his foul on Sunderland’s David Meyler. So incensed was he, Pulis emailed Match of the Day , an action he conspicuously failed to replicate, for example, when Huth elbowed Mario Balotelli in the face off the ball in the 2011 FA Cup final.

Which brings us back to Wembley last Sunday. Luiz was protecting possession, allegedly, when he felt Aguero challenging him. This idea that defenders are “in possession” when they are, in fact, “shepherding” the ball to the point of obstruction is one of those practices, like man-handling at corners, that has been allowed to establish itself as a legitimate tactic.

Luiz knows this. Luiz knew that despite him being willing to raise an arm across Aguero’s path and obstruct him, the referee is nine times out of 10 guaranteed to give a free-kick to the defender.

It is as if being a striker or creative player is not hard enough, defenders have to be given the benefit of the doubt in these situations.

No wonder Aguero was frustrated. Not only was he in effect being obstructed, it was close on violently so. The combination made him react by lunging. Cue outrage, cue Luiz’ little homily.

This is a pet hate, the dirty defender masquerading as a Corinthian playmaker – Luiz is capable of both, as he displayed in the course of four days against City and Fulham. It coincides with a pet love, the forward prepared to be dirty when necessary.

The great Leeds United and England striker Allan Clarke was pencil-thin and looked vulnerable physically in an era when Ron Harris relished his nickname “Chopper”. But Clarke was tough, and ready. He was maybe no Derek Hales – a striker even Harris would have had second thoughts about kicking – but Clarke understood Danny Blanchflower’s message about getting in your retaliation first.

Aguero, booked twice this season, is in the mould of Clarke in his readiness. There was a comical moment after last Sunday’s game when Roberto Mancini defended his striker by feigning ignorance of the challenge on Luiz but quietly Mancini made the more serious point that Aguero gets kicked plenty.

All forwards do. They need protection from officials, not lectures from defenders who’ve just left a foot in or raised an elbow and who are affronted by an opponent doing the same.

At least with Ron Harris strikers knew where they stood, and where they would fall.