Eden Hazard will be held to highest contempt

Posted by James Tyler

By now you've emailed the animated .gif to friends, replayed the video and read the tweets.

Chelsea's Eden Hazard kicked a ball boy. That actually happened. It's another bit of eye-twitching hilarity/travesty to add to footballing lore, a moment in which a well-paid, clearly irritated player lost patience with the playground antics of a kid on the sideline.

Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty ImagesA Swansea ball boy picks himself off the field after getting kicked at by Eden Hazard while retrieving the ball. The ball boy was able to resume his duties.

The build-up to "Ball boy-gate" was banal in the extreme. With the ball out of play and Chelsea needing two goals in 10 minutes to remain in with a shout of a Capital One Cup final, the lad tasked with returning the ball to play held on to it and fell on it, wasting so many seconds. Hazard intervened, stuck a boot in and got himself a red card. A fittingly frustrating end to a difficult evening. Forget that the referee would surely tack on the lost time; Hazard's decision to break that fourth wall between field of play and its peripherals rightly earned him an early shower, an impending censure from the FA and a likely ban.

Hazard isn't the first to do such a thing in soccer; Eric Cantona famously served 120 hours of community service and was banned for four months of the 1994-95 season for greeting a terrace heckler with a kung fu boot to the chest. Argentina national team captain Daniel Passarella struck a ball boy for time-wasting while playing for Internazionale in 1986 and was banned for six weeks. (As an aside, one has to wonder how many players haven't had similar urges when anger, irritation and the impending humiliation of defeat combine and cause that clichéd "red mist" to descend. You know, the kind of brutality that ends up with someone's ACL torn or ankle snapped.)

To debate this in great length obscures what I consider the bigger story -- Chelsea's failure to overturn an attainable deficit in pursuit of a tidy, second-tier bit of silverware, and did anyone notice how inept Rafa Benitez was at trying to wrest the game from its soporific tempo? -- but we'll do it just the same.

Obviously, Hazard was in the wrong to lash out at the kid on the sideline. There's no situation in the beautiful game that dictates lashing out at those on the sideline. It's not a conversation or a reminder one ever thought might be needed despite the rising tension and ever-increasing stakes in the modern era.

Was the ball boy being cheeky? Absolutely. Was his behavior intended to grate and raise the hackles of the Chelsea players who were desperate for a goal? Of course. Yet it's utterly harmless in execution -- remember, this is still only a game, we think -- that any sentient being should know better. Any adult should know better. Yankees fans surely remember young Jeffrey Maier and his gleeful, glove-over-the-railing interference with Derek Jeter's fly ball-turned-home run. Yet Baltimore Orioles RF Tony Tarasco didn't pull the 12-year-old onto the Yankee Stadium warning track and beat him senseless. There are some lines you just don't cross. It's common sense.

Once the FA rolls into its conference room, we can expect that Hazard will be held to the highest contempt for his actions. These cases are easy for oft-criticized bureaucracies, as harsh punishments and zero tolerance will almost always be met with universal praise. It's an easy decision to make.

Sport brings out the best and worst in people. It gives us heroes and villains, victory and heartbreak, glory and shame. We get Hands of God, Hands of Frog, goals that weren't, no-goals that were, kicks, punches, head-butts and stunning goals. The pressure on players is immense. Managers, too. The choking, stifling need to perform, deliver, succeed and win. Yet where Arsene Wenger commits GBH on an unsuspecting water bottle or Sir Alex Ferguson violates a piece of gum between his molars, there's an Eden Hazard making a sad mistake. His behavior can never really be excused -- even if reports of the ball boy planning time-wasting on Twitter are true -- but on some level, you can understand.

All in all, Swansea is in a Cup final and a ball boy in Wales has a mildly sore rib cage. Hazard's actions will be the focal point, discussed ad nauseam and forever preserved for Internet posterity.

Hazard apologized after the game and will, as Swans boss Michael Laudrup quipped, "regret" his actions for a long time. But who cares. Let me play that GIF again.

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