Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Date with 'Butcher' Shows Why We Still Need to Keep Eye on the Hatchet Men

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Date with 'Butcher' Shows Why We Still Need to Keep Eye on the Hatchet Men

Article excerpt

Byline: Patrick Barclay on Monday

TOMORROW is the 30th anniversary of one of football's most infamous fouls. It was committed in Barcelona, where Diego Maradona's left ankle broke under the impact of an airborne lunge by Andoni Goikoetxea, henceforth known as "The Butcher of Bilbao".

Google it and what may revolt you most -- after the assault itself, launched from the victim's blind side -- was the attitude of the referee as Maradona writhed in agony.

The official called Goikoetxea over and crossed his hands, palms down, in a gesture that said: "Don't do it again."

As if the big defender needed to. The job was done. But a good whack was considered part of the game then. More than now. That's why I'll never consider Lionel Messi a greater player than Maradona.

The latter took much harder punishment, much more often, than today's genius of the Nou Camp, who is able to give spectators the indirect benefit of the change in the refereeing climate brought about by FIFA (with Sepp Blatter heavily involved, let it not be forgotten) in the early 1990s.

By then it was too late, sad to say, for Maradona, who was struggling with accumulative injury when he somehow guided Argentina to the World Cup Final in 1990. Marco van Basten was likewise to be crippled in what should have been his prime, forced out of the game just before his 29th birthday in 1993 (though he did strive to return to the Milan side for a further two years).

The bravery of Maradona was extraordinary and perhaps, by playing on until a drug test saw him finally banished from the World Cup in 1994, he unwittingly deferred the FIFA action that included a ban on so-called "tackles from behind", in other words challenges which take part of the man before the ball. They were not wholly eradicated, as Eduardo was to discover when playing for Arsenal against Birmingham in 2008 but became an exception rather than virtually the rule. What Messi has faced is systemic fouling -- most memorably by Real Madrid in one of his early Clasicos -- rather than the naked violence of his precursor's era. …

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