Unfortunately, yet predictably, Eden Hazard’s red-card has taken the narrative away from Swansea’s progression to the League Cup Final. Such is football: a sensational negative will always dominate a rudimentary positive in the battle for press coverage.
A couple of statements about what happened last night:
– The Swansea ball-boy was clearly trying to waste time and should have been quicker to give the ball back.
– He probably wasn’t as hurt as he appeared to be.
– Eden Hazard shouldn’t have kicked him.
All three of those statements exist independently, and all three of them are almost certainly true. That side of the debate has already been covered in detail by this article on the FourFourTwo website.
In terms of a punishment for Hazard, don’t think that the ball-boy’s actions in any way mitigate the Belgian’s behaviour. As and when The FA make a decision on what to do, they will need to act against the precedent created last night, rather than the individual aspects of the offence itself.
Did Hazard kick him that hard? Was it warranted? Is it fair to factor the player’s obvious frustration into any judgement of the incident?
None of those questions really matter.
What we’ve been left with this morning, is a trending video clip of a wholly unsavoury incident which can’t be allowed to happen again. Yes, ball-boy behaviour needs to be looked at and regulated – because this kind of thing happens at every ground at one point or another – but Hazard will need to be used as the subject of a kind of ‘test-case’ here. If, for example, The FA is seen to be soft on the Belgian and his actions are treated as any other on-pitch misconduct charge would be, then they will find themselves battling a PR-firestorm. You know the headlines already: Chelsea will be getting ‘preferential treatment’, English football will again be bowing to the might of the big clubs. We’ve all got that script memorised. Either way, ‘violence’ towards non-players can’t be allowed to exist as a precedent in the game – that will lead to nothing good.
Rival fans will want a draconian ban, some Chelsea support will doubtless demand that the red card be rescinded; neither are appropriate. Swansea can deal with their ball-boy, but The FA have to ensure that a very clear message is sent about what a player can and cannot do in that scenario. Hazard is guilty of stupidity rather than outright malice, but for the good of the game he has to carry the can for this.
Three to five games, nothing more than that.