In the interest of full disclosure I like gritty, tough footballers, guys who play the game in a physical manner, so when it comes to Jacob Burns and his reputation as a niggler and a nuisance – and, as some of have commented in Mike Tuckerman’s column, a ‘dirty player’ - I have trouble siding with this argument.
Does he play the game hard? Absolutely. Does he push the boundaries of the rules? Without question. Does he receive a lot of yellow cards? Yes.
But to label a footballer dirty, suggests something spiteful or nasty, someone to be despised or who has a reputation for on-field acts of thuggery - think Kevin Muscat or Joey Barton.
Burns is many things but he’s not dirty and neither are the side he captains. Perth are tough, physical, can be considered uncompromising - but dirty? No chance in hell.
Admittedly, they do concede more cards and fouls than their A-League rivals, but that doesn’t mean the West’s best are a bunch of hackers and leg-biters. They’re hardly taking the league to dark places like Muscat’s challenge on Adrian Zahra, or where the infamous Wimbledon side took the English game in late ‘80s. Squirrel grip for your troubles, anyone?
Certainly Perth are frequently penalised for fouls. Last season the Glory had the worst disciplinary record in the competition with 63 points; in comparison the doomed Gold Coast United were the fairest side, collecting just 32 points.
Perth also led the league in fouls conceded with 437 and were second to Sydney FC (67) on yellow cards, with 65 over their 30-game season. Individually, they had a few players who truly exceeded the average when it came to fouls committed, and if you take out the now retired Tim Brown, Perth had three players in the top 10 of the fouls column.
Burns was no.1 with 85 fouls, while Liam Miller was equal ninth with 42 and Shane Smeltz had 41, though a number of those were offsides. In addition Dean Heffernan led the league with two red cards.
By recruiting Michael Thwaite, the Glory have not only bolstered their defence but also their reputation as stiff tacklers, because the former Gold Coast centreback was fifth in the league last season with 45 fouls committed, while also collecting seven yellow souvenirs, and has already shown his willingness to make a lunging challenge for the Glory when it is required.
There is no denying Glory are card-magnets but that doesn’t necessarily equate to dirtiness, particularly when their physical approach is a major contributor to their success.
If a team doesn’t let you score then you can’t beat them, and as much as the rise of Brisbane Roar has led to attacking, possession-based football becoming fashionable in the A-League, there is a reason why so many successful teams the world over, in all sports, are built on tight defences that refuse to mess around, which is exactly what the Glory do.
Winning is the aim of any football team and if they achieve that by playing so-called “ugly means” so be it. Fans may try to denigrate the Glory for being ‘dirty’, but simply put they are playing to win.
It’s a tight balance to get right, Ian Ferguson’s team and especially their captain will always have their detractors – but no one’s getting hurt or having to spend months in recovery like Zahra did thanks to that Muscat tackle because of them and they win football games.
Perth and their tough style are here to stay, embrace it and enjoy a different style of football, because they will be in the title race this season.
The views expressed in this article are purely those of the author and do not reflect those of FFA or the Hyundai A-League.