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Gerrard versus Saka

Gerrard versus Saka

Bukayo Saka says sometimes players need more protection from being fouled, but ex-players like Steven Gerrard disagree. Who is right?

When Arsenal beat Aston Villa before the international break, 20-year-old Bukayo Saka was on stellar form.

Not only did he score the winning goal that day, but he created two further chances for his team-mates. 

Villa struggled to contain him. The referee blew his whistle for three fouls in the 69 minutes that Bukayo Saka played, but in an interview after the game he suggested there could have been more.

“You were on the wrong end of a few tackles today, you had a word with the ref coming off as well, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, yeah, I wasn’t obviously complaining but I wanted to let him know that that’s my game you know, I’m going to run at players and sometimes I need a bit more protection. Players are purposely trying to kick me so… that’s all I was letting them know.”

BT Sport

Aston Villa boss Steven Gerrard disagreed. He said that last time he checked, football isn’t a non-contact sport. 

And after Gerrard made those comments, there were plenty of people who agreed with him.  

Like World Cup winner Frank LeBoeuf.

“People like Gerrard are experienced and some others are experienced, that’s why they were tough because they knew that they couldn’t make those kind of comments because they would have been kicked the game after. It is what it is. No, the referee won’t protect you, you will have to protect yourself…”

ESPN FC

And former English professional Jamie O’Hara.

“Yeah I absolutely agree with Gerrard there. I mean, I think you do get protection, a lot more than you used to, that’s for sure. And the game has changed, we know that. But it is a contact sport and you’re gonna take hits, you’re gonna take tackles and you’ve gotta ride ‘em. You know, he’s absolutely right, I’m sat here with how many operations, I’ve got screws in my back…a rod in my spine, no cartilage in my knee, no ligaments in my ankle, you know from tackles I’ve taken over the years and that’s just part and parcel of playing football.”

Talksport

Mikel Arteta was quick to jump to the defence of his player, and urged people to listen to what they say. “After all, they are why we are here,” he told the media.

So who is right?

A look at the stats shows that Bukayo Saka is the sixth most fouled player in the Premier League this season with 58 against him. At least, that’s the number that has been given by the referees.

The five players that have been fouled more this season are all at least five years older than him.

Does this young England international need to toughen up, or should he be better protected?

“I think what people have seen now, what England fans have seen is the noise Arsenal fans have been making about him since he made his debut in 2018…November. Since then, 19 assists, more than anybody in that time and since then he’s literally carried Arsenal’s hopes up to this point. I can’t speak highly enough of him.”

ITV Sport

Bukayo Saka plays with pace and skill. He’s difficult to contain, and that’s why he’s often fouled. 

When Arsenal played Crystal Palace earlier this season, Bukayo Saka had to be substituted when James McCarthur kicked him with full force in the back of the calf. 

Jamie Carragher – Steven Gerrard’s former Liverpool teammate – thought the referee should’ve shown a red card rather than a yellow.

“If Saka actually comes from behind him, you’d say yeah it’s like…obviously it’s a sore challenge but he’s looking at this ball, just coming down but there’s no way he can’t see Saka there as he’s trying to volley it…”

ITV Sport

And of course, there was the moment that was made into a thousand memes when Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini dragged Bukayo Saka back by his shirt collar. He too, received a yellow, when many said it could’ve easily been a red.

Aston Villa have received the third most number of cards in the Premier League this season with a total of 63 bookings and two sendings off.

So could that mean that their boss Steven Gerrard is even more keen to defend a style of play that breaks the rules more often than most?

If we look back at Steven Gerrard’s career, it’s true that he did struggle with injury throughout. 

Yet many of the games he missed for Liverpool were due to a persistent problem with groin strains.

At the time, his problems were put down to “growing pains” rather than injuries from tough tackles. 

Those long spells on the sidelines were – according to Steven Gerrard – “the lowest part” of his career in football.

And now, at 45 years old, he says he’s struggling to even go to the gym.

Bukayo Saka didn’t ask for any special treatment in his interview after the game with Aston Villa. He simply admitted he’d made the referee aware of what he felt was a problem in the match.

But he’s started a conversation. Do we really want his generation of players to face the same level of injuries as Steven Gerard’s generation?

Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford and produced by Ella Hill.