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By Martyn Herman
LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The art of tackling could become extinct if full-bloodied but fair challenges like the one Manchester City's Vincent Kompany executed at Arsenal on Sunday continue to be punished with red cards, former defenders fear.
City captain Kompany appeared to time his tackle on Arsenal's surging midfielder Jack Wilshere to perfection, taking the ball cleanly with his out-stretched left leg.
While Wilshere was sent flying by the inevitable coming together of two fully-committed players, even he looked shocked to see referee Mike Dean produce a straight red card for the Belgian - who also received his marching orders for a similar tackle on Manchester United's Nani last season.
Former tough-tackling Chelsea defender Ron Harris, known affectionately in his heyday as Chopper, said Kompany's tackle was meat and drink to defenders in the 1970s and 80s.
"When I was playing, if I had made a tackle like the one Kompany did on Wilshere I would have been proud of myself," Harris told Reuters on Monday.
"I would have given myself 10 out of 10 for that one. What was he supposed to do? They say you can't show your studs but when you slide in like that you have to show your studs. That doesn't mean it was a leg-breaker.
"I feel a bit for referees because they are under scrutiny but as a member of the defenders' union I have to say that was a perfect tackle. But then the modern-day prima donna strikers would probably say it should have been a red card."
Harris said the game has changed so much from the 70s when centre forwards and centre backs spent 90 minutes kicking lumps out of each other that it was now becoming a "non-contact" sport.
What is worse, he said, was the fact that good tackles are being punished while blatant diving and the modern-day curse of grappling at corner kicks go unpunished.
"Instead of making villains out of people like Kompany, they need to crack down on the cheating we are seeing," he said. "We see it every week. Soon, defenders will be frightened to make any tackles at all."
Kompany's red card in City's 2-0 win added fuel to the debate about tackling with comparisons being drawn with Bobby Moore's classic challenge on Brazil's fast-dribbling Jairzinho in the 1970 World Cup.
The former England skipper dispossessed Jairzinho with almost surgical precision and the video clip is still used as an example of the perfect piece of defending.
While Kompany did initially lead with both legs, like Moore he appeared perfectly in control of his body and Wilshere's legs, like the Brazilian's, were never in peril.
City are set to appeal against Kompany's punishment, which would be an automatic three-match ban, with manager Roberto Mancini saying it was not even a foul, let alone a red card.
His view drew sympathy from former Liverpool and Scotland defender Alan Hansen.
"If Kompany's red card against Arsenal is not rescinded by the FA it will send out the message that tacking has gone forever," he wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.
"It was just about the perfect tackle. I will be flabbergasted if referee Mike Dean decides to stand by his decision to dismiss the City captain."
Kompany looked mortified when he was sent off and later wrote on his Twitter page that he will never change his style.
"I will never pull out of a tackle," he said, "as much as I will never intend to injure a player."
His hopes of avoiding a three-match ban will depend on whether Dean admits to making a mistake, although if past cases are a measure, the red card is unlikely to be overturned. (Editing by Mark Meadows)