21 September 2013

The Redemption of Ryan Shawcross

Apparently, it's all up to Aaron. It's been three years since Shawcross broke his ankle in two places with a horrific tackle. Ever since then, Stoke has loomed as a particularly evil, if inept, enemy of ours, what with their adherence to a knuckle-dragging style of football that might do better in American football than in the Prem. With the departure of Pulis,we seem to be seeing a softer side to Stoke, but hard feelings certainly define this rivalry.

I don't blame Shawcross for the actual tackle. Much. I do blame him, however, for how he's apparently handled it ever since. One can tell that, after he realized what he had done, he felt something close to remorse. However, for as much as I can tell, he has never apologized to Aaron Ramsey, not properly, at least. The closest I can come to finding an apology is a report from August 2012 that has Ramsey saying, "I'm over what happened in the past, I've moved on. I had a text off him straight after I done my leg but that was it." One does not break another's leg and then simply send a text or two.

With Stoke fans booing Ramsey whenever we travel to Brittania, the context is clear: there is very little class to be found among them. I know that not all Stoke fans are such cretins. There's at least one whom I've met face-to-face who, upon learning that I was a Gooner, apologized for the tackle and even said he wished Shawcross would've been sold on. So that's one. However, the only Potter who matters here is Shawcross, and if he can't do the right thing and apologize for something that could have ended Ramsey's career or maimed him for life, he falls far lower off of the moral ladder.

I don't think Shawcross meant to break his leg or even injure him. He was following orders to play "tough" football and took it too far. Let's remember that, at the time, he and Ramsey were fellow Welshmen, a strong enough connection that Shawcross was considered for the Welsh national team as recently as July 2012. That this possibility was scotched by Ramsey renders the point moot now, of course. His conversation with Welsh national team manager Chris Coleman suggests that Ramsey hasn't forgiven Shawcross, and why should he? The burden rests at Shawcross's feet.

However, I've come 'round to thinking that Ramsey should go over to Shawcross tomorrow, extend his hand, and say to him, "I forgive you." Force the man to do what he apparently can't or won't do on his own. I'm not invoking any spiritual, moral, or religious platitudes. I'm not looking for a tearful embrace followed by both squads linking arms and signing kumbaya. I just want this sorry saga laid to rest. If Shawcross can look Ramsey in the eye, shake his hand, and apologize, great. We'll still go out and thrash them anyway, hopefully highlighted by a Ramsey goal or two and a few figurative broken ankles—I'm borrowing from basketball here, when one fakes a defender so thoroughly that he trips over his own feet.

If Shawcross snubs him, fine. We'll know what we've long suspected and should show no mercy to Stoke for as long as Shawcross features for them. Neanderthals who play that way can evolve, but until they develop some level of respect for the game, they're not worth the time or energy we might invest in hating them. We'll know who he is and what he's made of but should regard him with the same mix of scorn, disgust, and pity we might show to a garden slug. We can then direct our hate and vitriol at people who see fit to drop chemical weapons or show up at shopping malls and open fire.

In either case, let's hope the lads go into tomorrow's match with fire in their bellies and put Stoke on their collective arses so fast they won't know what hit them. Southampton's win over Liverpool means we could go top of the table with a win. Özil is set to make his Emirates appearance tomorrow, which should be momentous, and we'll have Arteta and Sanogo both available as well. We've weathered a fair number of early-season injuries and look set to strengthen. Stoke has had some strong showings, drawing with Man City last week, winning three, and losing narrowly to Liverpool in week one, but they've only scored three goals in four Prem matches. Even under new manager Mark Hughes, we pretty much know what to expect: rugged football, a stingy keeper, and a fair amount of hoofing it forward whenever they do get the ball. Özil's ability to unlock tight defenses will be put to the test, and he'll get his first real taste of Prem football, such as it's played by the likes of Stoke, but in the end, it's hard to resist the form we're in. Emotions will be at a fever pitch between the history and Özil's debut, and I see us tearing into Stoke to score at least twice.

Mr. Shawcross, you're on notice.