Choose your fighter: tough-tackling Brennan Johnson or showboating Richarlison? Let’s enjoy both…

The recent controversy after Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Forest on Sunday proves one thing: that you can relish both a skilful, flair player’s arrogance and an opponent’s desire to mark their territory, writes our columnist Laura Lawrence.

Images: @brenjohnson_ Instagram/@SpursOfficial

Who knew that there would be yet more nuanced debate about what happens on a football pitch? This week’s divisive subject is showboating: an expression of flair talent, or in need of a good clattering?

Tottenham Hotspur newbie Richarlison raised many emotions at the weekend by performing keepy-uppies during a passage of play. The result was to draw a challenge from Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson, which earned the latter a yellow card.

Johnson’s tackle won him plaudits from the Sky Sports pundits and commentators immediately. Jamie Carragher claimed Richarlison “winds him up”. As a defender, I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else, and would 100 per cent guarantee that had it been him on the pitch, he would have put his foot through the Brazilian too.

Forest’s manager Steve Cooper was none too pleased either. He made that clear in his post-match interview. “If that is acceptable at Spurs, it is nothing to do with me,” he said. “But it would not be accepted here, that’s for sure.”

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And so, the debate made its way to social media. Antonio Conte obviously defended Richarlison’s actions, as did many others. The arguments ranged from, “Why shouldn’t he display his flair ability, especially when the Forest players were standing off him so much?” to “He drew a free-kick for his team and a yellow card for the opposition — win-win.” 

The opposing view mainly focused on the respect of it. Is showing off disrespectful? Not sure a few keepy-uppies is dazzling the crowd but it could have embarrassed the Midlands side by proving just how much time he had on the ball. Do the ends justify the means? Well, it did put Johnson on a yellow card and at risk of further frustrated tackles, so maybe not. A more productive train of thought would have been to man-mark more closely but we’re not there in the moment.

Did Richarlison deserve it? At times, there is something beautiful about an inelegant tackle on a player. I’ll admit to shouting “put him in the stand” when a nippy winger has made their way deftly through our defence yet again. Defenders are there to defend and regain possession. Sometimes the best way to do that is to show them you’re there, physically.

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Johnson’s tackle wasn’t dangerous. It deserved a booking but looking at it from all angles, it was pent-up frustration. Had it been more dangerous than that, then we would need to have a different discussion. We don’t advocate breaking someone’s ankles, no matter what your thoughts are on how irritating they might be.

It’s perfectly possible to enjoy the arrogance of a player but also the absolute reductive behaviour of a player marking their territory.

This isn’t Highlander. There can be more than one way to look at it.

Follow Laura Lawrence on Twitter @YICETOR

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