PHIL NEVILLE has executed countless tackles in his career as a Premier League defender – but only one has its own internet appreciation group.
Mark Lawrenson called the Everton captain’s crunching slide challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo in October 2008 a “season adjusting tackle”, and it was - with a Facebook group that commemorates it to this day.
The no-holds barred yet fairly performed effort against the star player of the team he loves lit the blue touch paper that day and sparked Goodison Park into life.
The Blues held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw that felt like a victory, and Everton’s previously floundering season was transformed.
From being dumped out of the Carling Cup at the first attempt, and losing six of their previous games, the Blues went on to win their next three league fixtures, reach the FA Cup final at Wembley and qualify for Europe by finishing fifth.
It is, admits Neville after training at Finch Farm, the type of transcendental moment the Toffees’ current season could benefit from.
Any optimism garnered by back to back victories over Wolves and Bolton was soured by a dismal defeat by Stoke at Goodison on Sunday.
However, given red cards this term for similar crunching tackles by Jack Rodwell – and this week Liverpool’s Jay Spearing – would Neville stay on the pitch if he delivered the goods again?
Neville suspects not – but he is not about to start slamming referees because of that reality, instead he sympathises with them.
“The authorities are bringing in rules to try and improve football as a spectacle and they’re putting an awful lot of pressure on referees to enforce these rules,” he says.
“But maybe we need to relax and give the referees more leeway to use common sense and their own discretion.
“In life you can’t always be a robot. You need to let them judge the occasion and the conditions and take each tackle on its merit. That would help them.
“People say five years ago that something wouldn’t have been a yellow card. But at the same time maybe we just have to get used to the changes, they’re changing all the time. To get the game better you’re going to have situations where people get sent off.
“David Wheater got sent off against us at Bolton. Was it a red card? Yes it was a red card in terms of football now, but when I first got into the team it wouldn’t have been.
“When I first came through as a full back, my main objective was that my first tackle on the winger I was coming up against had to be a hard one. I had to smash him basically.
“Smash your winger early on you don’t see him again – that was the rule of thumb 15 years ago. But football has progressed. We’re on tackling at the moment, but maybe diving is as big an issue, maybe goal line technology is.”
Neville might speak fondly of a less complicated era in terms of rules, but he is not advocating a return to the blood and thunder days of the Seventies and Eighties.
“You don’t want a centre half crashing through the back of a centre forward,” he says. “Raking down the back of their calf and achilles, trying to look like they won the ball but really they went through the leg. You don’t want that.”
But, says the former England international, there must be some concession left to the physical side of football.
“In terms of tackling though it can have the same effect on a game that goals can. It can raise the atmosphere, it can inspire the team.
“Sometimes you hit the bar and it can change the momentum of the game. A good tackle can do that.
“We don’t want the art of tackling going away. We just need to help referees. It was good at the weekend, Luiz probably should have been sent off but after the game the referee came out and said ‘Sorry I made a mistake’
“The next day Alan Pardew said ‘What can I say? He made a mistake- human error'.
“Those refs have got such a hard job; they face almost as much scrutiny as the Prime Minister. They can’t win.
“You see my brother on TV and they’re analysing an incident 10 times to see if it was handball, and they still can’t tell. Refs have a split second. I’d like to watch a game and for the commentator to say that ref has had a bloody good game.
“It’s an impossible job. It’s easy for the manager to blame him, and the assessor to have a go at him.”
Neville has been heartened by the way Jack Rodwell has beefed up his own tackling this term, and spoke to him after his derby red-card to ensure he did not lose his conviction.
“The biggest crime would be if it happened next time for him not to tackle again,” he says. “He’s got to try and go in and win that ball.”
And then finally we’re back to October 2008 again.
“Sometimes you get booked, you get a yellow,” he says. “But if the ball’s there to be won again you have to go for it. It’s part of football – sometimes you get sent off unfairly.
“I say to Jack, ‘don’t let this hold you back. Next game you play you’ve got to tackle. The referee has got it wrong today.”