Premier League Needs to Heed Tony Pulis' Call for Ban on Cheats
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Throughout Monday in England, on the country's television and radio football shows, in writing and in conversations between people, so much discussion was centered around what to do about the national sport's cheating problem.
The question should be asked though, why are people only just noticing this now? What the heck have they been watching these past few years?!?
Okay, that's two questions.
If not an issue that has been totally ignored in recent times, it has been one that has been bizarrely neglected considering the negative and frequent effect it has.
The start of this season has had the feeling of a possible watershed moment in regards to tolerance for this blight on the not-so-beautiful game, albeit one instigated by Sergio Aguero misguidedly casting aspersions on what he believed to be a bias from referees towards compatriot players in diving situations.
The Argentine striker was undermined somewhat by a seemingly major reason for his claim being the penalty Fulham were awarded against his Manchester City side back in September, a decision that went the way of the Norwegian full-back John Arne Riise.
Aguero's comments did serve to raise the agenda, so much so that Sir Alex Ferguson gave his take on the subject in his pregame press conference prior to Manchester United's Champions League tie with Cluj, stating his belief that it is generally foreign players who dive.
Ferguson was reluctant to speak, commenting it was "not worth going into that subject."
The United manager's half-hearted but savvy attempts to dissuade Ashley Young from such acts late last season were only prompted following criticism of the winger, a hollow public admonishment considering United players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney have benefited from cheating on several occasions in the past without warning from the Scotsman.
This goes to the crux of the matter—why should managers speak up if diving and overreacting to challenges wins their team decisions?
In practical terms, the growing vigilance towards cheaters has resulted in players such as Luis Suarez being viewed with such suspicion that genuine fouls against him (e.g. when he was pulled down by Norwich City's Leon Barnett two weeks ago) have gone unpunished.
Considering Suarez's continued love of theatrics, as seen last Sunday against Stoke City, it is difficult to find sympathy for him on those rare occasions when he is harshly done by.
But primarily, the main reason why managers should speak up against this cheating is because it should be their moral duty to do so, for winning by such means is just dirty.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis is one of the few managers to take a public stance against this (on several occasions too), his latest criticism against Suarez drawing particular publicity in the current climate.
Pulis' call for the striker to be banned for three games for a dive during Sunday's game was said knowing full well the Football Association could not retroactively punish him.
However it must be hoped that such persistent calls from various areas in football will lead to the implementation of legislation that allows for retroactive banning, because it is the only way it will be stopped.
In an interview with Staffordshire newspaper The Sentinel, Stoke's Michael Kightly reiterated the criticism of Suarez, but also raised an extremely important point about player overreaction, something different to diving itself.
"When you get a little touch—and he is screaming like he has broken his leg, you do think, 'Is he hurt?' But nine times out of 10, he's not," Kightly told The Sentinel.
"It is something we are trying to get out of the game. Glen Johnson, on the other hand, got a good whack and got up straight away.
"Referees have to try to stamp down on it."
While match officials should certainly be sympathised with in situations when they have been conned plain and simple, on many other occasions it is baffling how they are unable to decipher a legitimate foul with mere contact, as Kightly described above.
In both circumstances, a punishment of a suspension for the guilty offenders will serve notice that their decision to cheat will cost them football matches, a price that any player with common sense will be unwilling to pay.
Whether or not many players, managers, journalists or supporters will be willing to follow Pulis and Kightly's lead and try to force the issue with both the FA and Premier League is unlikely.
The nature of the modern game has conditioned too high a percentage of these parties to accept it, and even encourage it, so much so that emerging young players are doing it more and more. See Swansea City's Ben Davies' shameful attempt against Stoke City recently.
This is a shame, as Premier League players as talented as Suarez, Young, Rooney, Bale, Gerrard, Wilshere, Torres, etc. should not need to lower themselves to these levels.
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