Early Doors

Eden on Hazardous terrain

Last night, something extraordinary happened. You will already have seen the slow-mo videos on YouTube and the GIFs from every angle, but nonetheless Early Doors would like to state for the record that in a Carling Cup semi-final second leg between Swansea and Chelsea, Eden Hazard kicked a ball boy.

It doesn't matter that the Belgian star was provoked by the fact that said ball boy was indulging in some sneaky timewasting by lying on top of the ball to help see out the last 10 minutes of a tie that Swansea were leading 2-0 on aggregate.

It doesn't really matter, though it certainly adds a level of intrigue, that earlier in the day the ball boy had brazenly boasted on Twitter (now 77,000 followers and counting) that he was the "king of all ball boys" and that he was "#needed #for #timewasting".

It doesn't matter that the ball boy, to some observers at least, was putting on a Rivaldo-esque display after being jabbed in the ribs, rolling around in the floor before getting a handshake from Ashley Williams as he departed in what seemed like tears.

It doesn't matter that this 'performance' - if indeed that's what it was - might have been the product of the "Big Brother society", as diagnosed by Rafa Benitez, Chelsea manager and critic of humanity's hunger for fame, however fleeting.

It doesn't even matter that he is 17 - a rather suspect age for a ball boy.

The only thing that really matters is that Eden Hazard - a world class talent who earns millions from the game - actually kicked a ball boy. That is something that actually happened in a professional match.

You would think the act of kicking a ball boy would be an incident that would provoke a uniform, critical response, yet for all of the reasons above - and of course the fierce brand loyalty of some Chelsea supporters - there are people out there who have chosen to defend Hazard after this bizarre incident.

Football's fiercely tribal nature has seen swathes of supporters lose all sense of their critical faculties when it comes to their own clubs and become apologists for offences of varying degress - racist abuse and sky-high ticket prices amongst them - in the past 12 months. Apparently it's time to add giving a kid a jab to the ribs to the list.

Still, it could have been worse. He could have shot him with an air rifle, eh Ashley?

With a colossal PR disaster looming - colossal even for a club who deal with them on a near monthly basis - Chelsea and Hazard took swift and decisive action by bringing the two parties together in the away changing room and then releasing an apology from the player himself.

"The boy put his whole body on to the ball and I was just trying to kick the ball," said Hazard. I think I kicked the ball and not the boy. I apologise. The ball boy came in the changing room and we had a quick chat and I apologised and the boy apologised as well. It is over. Sorry."

Chelsea's official Twitter account got in the act too, issuing an apology for earlier having described the incident thus: “Has football gone mad? Hazard is sent off for kicking the ball under a ball boy attempting to smother the ball rather than return it."

Has football gone mad? It's a good question. It was a moment of utter insanity from Hazard, certainly, but almost as crazy has been the reaction from some supporters, and pundits who should know better, to mount a defence on his behalf.

ED doesn't think for a second that Hazard was trying to hurt the kid, but in a moment of frustration he lost his head. Trying to kick the ball out from under him, he caught the ball boy in the process. He could have tried to hook or prise the ball out, but he aimed a kick.

Were both parties left looking a bit silly by the episode? Yes. But the pertinent fact is surely that one is a professional footballer - a star in the Premier League and at international level - while the other is a kid. To do what Hazard did smacked of a total lack of professionalism or common sense.

And so to his punishment. It's surely a relief to all concerned that the police will not pursue the issue - that would have been ludicrous in the extreme - but there's certainly a case for extending his automatic three-match ban for violent conduct. Hazard could well have been sent off for doing the same to a player, and to do so to a ball boy is undeniably worse.

There's now an instinctive reaction to any high-profile incident that says the faux outrage generated by it is over the top. Fury over diving, handballs and handshakes can be horribly overblown, the reaction being out of all proportion to act.

But on this occasion, ultimately Eden Hazard did kick a ball boy, and there's no way of glossing over that.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "He shouldn’t have done it as he’s a little boy and it made me angry. It was crazy, I’ve never seen anything like that before. I could see the boy had the ball and Hazard was trying to take it and there was a struggle. It was stupid and I think he (Hazard) knows he did something wrong. He’s only human and people make mistakes but he shouldn’t have done it." - Dwight Tiendalli.

FOREIGN VIEW: It wasn't just the Liberty Stadium where red cards were being dished out last night. Real Madrid survived red cards for Fabio Coentrao and Angel Di Maria, and an injury to Iker Casillas, to draw 1-1 in Valencia and qualify for the Copa del Rey semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate. That hasn't stopped some remarkable speculation in the Spanish press though, with Marca this morning reporting that Iker Casillas and Sergio Ramos recently told president Florentino Perez: "It's Mourinho or us."

COMING UP: The African Cup of Nations continues as we bring you live coverage of the Group B games between Ghana and Mali (15:00) and Niger v Congo DR (18:00). We also speak to Jan Molby about the Chelsea game last night, while Pitchside Europe updates us on events in the super soaraway Bundesliga.