Sunderland boss defends Smith in Diaby tackle row

May 3, 2006

Sunderland caretaker boss Kevin Ball has launched a passionate defence of Dan Smith as Arsenal consider suing over the youngster's tackle on Abou Diaby.

Diaby suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle when he was caught by fellow 19-year-old Smith during Monday's Premiership clash at the Stadium of Light, ruling the Gunners midfielder out of the Champions League final.

However, Ball was quick to back his player and renewed his support today with the London club seeking legal advice.

Reacting to critical comments from Arsene Wenger, Thierry Henry and Kolo Toure, Ball said: 'That's entirely up to them.

'What we have got to understand is from their point of view, they want to protect their own interests and commiserate with their player.

'I have no problem with that, that's part and parcel of life. But as much as they are doing that, I'm going to defend Dan.

'The biggest thing I'm going to say to them (Arsenal) is to make the assumptions they have, they have to know the character and the personality of the player.

'Dan Smith is not a malicious, dirty player and I think it's then unfair to make that call on him and say he deliberately went to do it.

'Dan went for the ball, unfortunately Diaby was quicker than him.

'I have to emphasise, the last thing I wanted to happen in the game against what I hope will be the champions of Europe is an injury to one of their players of that nature.

'I most definitely didn't want it to happen. I wanted our players to compete, and I felt we did that.

'If they felt we were over-zealous, that's their opinion. My opinion as manager of Sunderland Football Club is I felt we competed and competed well.

'I can fully understand them because they feel that one of their players is going to miss out on possibly one of the biggest moments of his career.

'I understand that. I've got no problem with them saying what they have said because I might be the same in that situation.

'But I have to defend my player because I do feel Dan Smith did not intentionally go through him.'

Substitute Smith was booked by referee Dermot Gallagher for his injury-time challenge on the Frenchman.

Wenger launched a stinging attack on the player and Sunderland's approach in general in his post-match press conference, accusing 'some people' of not even attempting to play football.