Ryan Bennett is extremely fortunate that Alexis Sanchez injured his hamstring at Carrow Road yesterday, because had he not he would rightly have found himself to be the focus of attention today.
In England, the crowds are not set back from the pitch and so, inevitably, this kind of incident happens from time-to-time. The game is played at great speed and there will always be the propensity for players to come into contact with advertising hoardings or guard-rails - and, camera pits, too, because they’re as hazardous as they are necessary.
But Ryan Bennett knew precisely what he was doing and Alexis Sanchez’s reaction betrays that he thought so too. Sanchez is not a cheat and nor is he prone to any form of exaggeration; if anything, quite the reverse. He is a street fighter of a footballer who seems to thrive in the rough-and-tumble world of the Premier League and, yesterday withstanding, his durability has been testament to his physical resilience.
But he can’t be expected to tolerate that kind of incident. Had the situation been inverted and had that been an Arsenal player unnecessarily shoving a Norwich City forward into obvious danger, there would be uproar; it would be characterised as bullying or as a top-four player taking a cheap shot at an honest opponent. The back-page would have written itself.
But because it was Ryan Bennett and because he plays for an underdog side who were grinding above their means yesterday, it has been forgotten and is being presented as little more than harmless gamesmanship.
It’s anything but. It’s not quite Ben Thatcher and the intent to harm isn’t quite as obvious, but it was still a brazen act of cowardice. Sanchez was already off the pitch when Bennett pushed him in the back and the latter’s sneering, unrepentant response in the aftermath betrayed his intentions.
There’s always a temptation to be melodramatic in this kind of situation, but Sanchez - and the cameraman - could genuinely have been seriously hurt. It’s violent conduct that would never be tolerated from a higher profile player: had Wayne Rooney or Diego Costa done that, social media would be drowning in its own bile - and rightly so.
It’s exactly the sort of ugliness for which the aggressor should be made an example of, if only for the sake of creating a deterring precedent. It was cheap, it was deliberate, and Ryan Bennett should be sitting down for three games at least. It was something which challenged the unwritten rules of professionalism; play the game hard, but play the game fair - and never intentionally expose another player to the risk of losing his career.