Jean-Claude Van Gattuso: A problem for UEFA or the police?

This week came the resolution of one of football’s recent top stories – the headbutt seen around the world! Another baffling decision from UEFA: Gattuso getting away with only a four match ban. I find it even more baffling that the ban would have only been 3 games had he not qualified for an extra game because he was captain during the match in question. Now I do agree that if he were Russian, his head butt would have merely been classed as a ‘love tap’, but that is not the point.

If I want to kill someone, but don’t quite manage it, that is classed as attempted murder and carries a harsh punishment. If I head butt someone on the street this is a criminal offence. So why is the punishment for Gattuso’s actions and those before him so lenient? Is it because it just happened on the football pitch? Is it because it just happened in the heat of the moment?

To me none of this matters. What would have happened if he had connected a little more solidly and caused a serious injury? Would this have been taken more seriously even though the intent was the same? Would this have received a more substantial ban? Probably. Would this have lead to police involvement? Probably not.

When does what happens on the pitch cross the line and become a criminal offence? Should it be classed as assault? I do think this is a step too far, but I think it’s important at all levels that players understand that they need to take responsibility for their actions on the pitch. In the same game we saw a two-footed tackle on Corluka from Flamini that did cause injury although luckily it wasn’t too serious.

Throughout history there have been injuries caused to people because of reckless tackles that have intent. Players like Roy Keane have admitted tackling with intent to injure. He admitted in his autobiography that the tackle he made on Alf-Inge Haaland was meant to hurt him. Haaland never really played again and all that Keane got was a £5,000 fine and a 3 match ban.

We have seen others like Cantona literally assault someone in the crowd. On this occasion Cantona was actually tried in a criminal court in which he was sentenced to120 hours community service after a prison sentence was overturned. Manchester United also imposed a ban in line with the FA’s wishes. Ultimately, this was later extended meaning Cantona spent 9 months out of the game.

Gattuso’s actions were similar to Cantona’s. But the Gattuso incident seems to have been taken a lot more lightly. This was also a repeat offence after Gattuso had earlier grabbed Jordan around the neck.

Whether you agree or not that Gattuso got off lightly, I think this highlights a wider problem in football. Players losing control of their emotions after the game gets to them psychologically. This is when football becomes dangerous. Careers can be ended. People get assaulted.

We have seen it a lot this season, both on and off the field – Barton’s punch to the ribs on Pedersen that the ref didn’t see for example. Take the stadium, pitch, and fans away and these become far more than just fouls on the pitch. These are actions that wouldn’t be tolerated on the streets.

Let’s look at the Gattuso incident with the context of the match stripped away: a 35 year-old man physically assaulted a 60-year old man. If we read that in the paper, minus the football context, we would be shocked. If the authorities punished the offender with a four day Xbox ban, it would seem a disgraceful miscarriage of justice.

UEFA had a chance to send out a message with this incident. Milan could also take more action with the player and set an example to fans, young players, and kids. If football violence continues on and around the field of play, how long until we see it back in the stands and how many more incidents will we see that could end players’ careers?

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  1. U Man U? says:

    this guy has been like this for years, Gattuso loves getting in a mess and having a bite at someones ankles. i think it is an interesting point though, where does it become more than something you can get away with on the pitch? should it become that or would it take something away from the game?

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