This business with Andy Carroll cannot go on. Someone is going to get hurt.
And not hurt like Marvin Zeegelaar of Watford was, either. Not a bit of claret, tampons-up-the-hooter hurt. Sirens, blue flashing light, intensive care hurt. Gary Mabbutt hurt. Iain Hume hurt.
Leading with the arm has potentially ruinous consequences and Carroll does it far too often.
That he could have left West Ham and their new manager, David Moyes, with 10 men after just six seconds of their match with Watford on Sunday was unprofessional. Catching Zeegelaar with such force he looked to have broken his nose was reckless.
But that isn’t the half of it. The worst-case scenario of a severe blow to the head is life-changing, perhaps fatal. And that is what Carroll, and football, risks each time he leads with an arm.
In 2008, Hume, a striker with Barnsley, required emergency brain surgery having been elbowed in the head by Chris Morgan of Sheffield United.
It was an appalling blow and had the medical services not acted quickly Hume could have died.
Morgan was not jumping, had his feet planted and struck Hume before heading the ball away, not as part of the same motion.
There was no question of a leap, momentum or imbalance playing a part. Despite the FA’s depressing inertia — they took no further action, meaning the yellow card shown to Morgan at the time was the extent of his punishment — the consequences should have served as a warning.
Clearly, they did not, because Carroll has been allowed to make assault part of his armoury this season.
Carroll’s foul on Zeegelaar was not deemed as serious as an elbow, because his arm was straight. Equally, he was jumping for the ball, so referee Andre Marriner may have thought he was using the limb to gain height, for protection, or to achieve physical superiority.
He’s a big bloke, too. Sometimes that can be made to seem a crime when challenging for the ball in the air. Gareth Bale had a cracking header disallowed for Real Madrid against Barcelona, simply for being taller than Jordi Alba. Yet Carroll is not breaking noses because he is 6ft 4in tall, but because his forearm arrives before he does. Sunday was his first league start since he was sent off against Burnley on October 14. It wasn’t his first offence that day, either.
Either Moyes gets hold of this, or the officials must. A red card after six seconds would have ruined the spectacle of West Ham’s visit to Watford, but Marriner has no duty there.
He does, however, have a duty of care to the players — and he failed in it on Sunday.
The best person to replace Tony Pulis? Er… Tony Pulis
So what kind of manager do West Brom need to succeed Tony Pulis? Someone with experience of Premier League relegation struggles, obviously. A manager with a track record of successful firefighting, who will organise a team of limited talents and hold his nerve under pressure — not one who will see the way out as a £100million January spending spree.
They need a pragmatist, a coach who will not place aesthetics or his personal reputation above the immediate needs of the club; someone who will not care what the critics think, and if that means winning ugly or scrapping for a point, then so be it.
The fans may be willing to sacrifice elite division status for a more open, entertaining style, but no owner agrees.
Right now, West Brom need a manager who will dig in and drill his players to do the same. And there is the dilemma for owner Guochuan Lai: the ideal man to replace Tony Pulis would appear to be Tony Pulis.
If they hadn’t just sacked him, he would be a cert for the job.
Last names on the team sheet could settle Ashes
It was not the most auspicious start when England arrived in Australia for this Ashes tour. The interviewer bounded up to Alastair Cook at Perth airport. ‘James…’ he began.
And if the locals don’t remember the man who batted for 36 hours and 11 minutes at an average of 127.6 on the 2010-11 tour, what chance have they got with the likes of Mark Stoneman and James Vince?
About as much recall as all but the tragics back home will have for Cameron Bancroft or Tim Paine, named in Australia’s line-up.
Yet these are the figures that could turn this most historic of sporting encounters. It could all boil down to them: the journeymen, the first-timers, the last names on the team sheet, the players selectors would have agonised over long into the night before deciding.
How many conversations resulted in the decision to pick Australian wicketkeeper Paine, for instance, considering he was not the No 1 choice for Tasmania at the start of this season? How many times have England rewritten and revised their top order on paper this last year?
On Monday, The Australian newspaper attempted to introduce ‘unknown England’ to its public as it counted down to the first Test at the Gabba. There was not even a mention of Jake Ball, whose recovery from an ankle ligament injury means he is likely to play ahead of Craig Overton in England’s seam attack.
It comes to something when what is unknown doesn’t just stop at a list of unknowns, much like Donald Rumsfeld’s summing-up of American policy in Iraq. ‘There are known knowns,’ he said. ‘There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.’
We hear you, Donald. England’s Ashes XI is pretty much like that. And Australia’s too.
For what if a player like Bancroft, on his Test debut having missed out when the tour of Bangladesh was cancelled, transpires to be the perfect foil for David Warner and Australia’s openers turn the series?
What if the sprinkling of gun players cancel each other out, meaning the Tests are decided by a breakout star, a name few had imagined taking centre stage? Bancroft or Usman Khawaja; Vince or Dawid Malan? If one or two players rise to the occasion unexpectedly, in a series as tight as this, it could be the tipping point.