Luis Suarez is always in the headlines; if not for antics on international duty then for blitzing opposition defences with excellent hat tricks, if not for that then for his finishing statistics, and if not for that...well, there's still always diving.
Let's get it out of the way first and foremost: Against Stoke City, Suarez dived. No defending it, no skirting the issue and no trying to blame it on somebody else. As a one-off event, he dived, poorly, and he should have been booked for it.
The fact that he wasn't yellow-carded for such a blatant and rubbish attempt to con a penalty does nothing more than highlight the depths of ineptitude to which referee Lee Mason plumbed at the weekend.
But some of the newspaper articles which have followed the event have been nothing short of scandalous, focusing entirely on this single aspect of the game and ignoring everything else which went on around it, even that which was far worse than Suarez's moment of frustration.
Reporting on an event, even a single event which lasted around one second in a 90-minute match, is fine. There's nothing wrong with it.
But the vilification which has enshrouded Luis Suarez once more, at the expense of even the acknowledgement of other wrongs in the same game, is a shameful indictment of the English, and even global, media preference to metaphorically string one player up by the neck, no matter what the surrounding circumstances.
Stamping or Diving?
There is little doubt that Suarez is the Premier League scapegoat of the moment.
Throughout the match, Stoke City committed 18 fouls, above even their own lofty average of 15 fouls per match this season. (Liverpool commit an average of around 10 fouls per game).
Almost a quarter of those came on Suarez alone—with the most blatant, shocking and reckless of assaults on him not even meriting a word, whistle or card from the hapless Mason.
Just a few minutes into the game, Robert Huth deliberately, obviously and in full view of the referee stamped on the Liverpool forward.
It was a red-card offence. Stoke should have been down to 10 men for almost the entire match, Huth should have been banned for three games for violent conduct and the marker would have been set for the match that rough-house tactics would not work.
Instead, the grossly incompetent Mason decided it was neither worthy of a card nor even an acknowledgement, despite the fact that he and his assistants had seen and noted the stamp.
Liverpool fans should have taken this as a sign of what was to come, but even then the vitriolic and ridiculously one-sided slant the media in general have taken of the game is beyond the ability to fathom.
The BBC reported the Huth incident almost as a side anecdote, noting that the defender "appeared to thrust his foot" into Suarez, in the 11-line short article it deigned appropriate to run up on its website the day after the stamp took place.
By contrast, Tony Pulis' mindless blithering about diving being worthy of a retrospective three-match ban—that's the same as violent conduct, remember—warranted a full headline spot, 400-word article, published straight after the match on the same site—and contained not a single reference to any of the fouling which went on during the course of the game, including on Suarez, and especially of the stamp on the same player.
More shamefully from the BBC's point of view, not one reporter or journalist appeared to bother asking the Stoke manager about the incident and certainly nothing was shown on their evening highlights show of Pulis having to address that particular thorn in his argument.
Elsewhere, the Independent believed Suarez's latest antics worthy of two articles, labelling the forward alternatively an "embarrassment" and "laughable"—yet again, neither of them even bother to mention the reckless and dangerous stamp of Huth.
Pulis wanted to talk further on the matter in those articles:
I am concerned about the simulation and putting pressure on the ref. It's a tough enough job as it is. For professional footballers to be doing that is just not right and the PFA should start talking about it.
Perhaps the Stoke manager might have considered how much pressure his own players put refs under to get the cards out early when they go steamrolling through the back of the opposition within the first five minutes of the game? No?
Maybe the PFA (Professional Footballers' Association) should also be pointing out to their members that standing on each other with studded football boots is probably more likely to cause serious injury than diving to the ground is.
Dean Whitehead's Disgraceful Behaviour
Here's something else: Over the past few days and weeks we've seen examples of people countering the diving argument by arguing the point the other way.
If a dive in the box attempting to con the referee into giving a penalty should be seen as cheating, should defenders' reactions be classed as the same when they have committed a foul—and then stand over the grounded forward yelling at him, as if he was the one in the wrong?
Of course it should, is the short answer. But will it be? Doubtful.
But let's take an incident outside of the penalty box to compare.
Late on in the match, Raheem Sterling picked up the ball on the right side and embarked on a winding run, leaving Stoke players trailing in his wake, before he then waltzed past Stoke midfielder Dean Whitehead.
The midfielder was left with one choice—to foul Sterling and give away a free kick—if he didn't want to risk the creation of a chance against his team.
Whitehead did this in sublime fashion, first grabbing the youngster's shirt, then tripping him from behind and finally scissor-kicking both legs with his own trailing one, ensuring there would be no escape.
Mason was five yards away and immediately whistled and showed a yellow card—one of Stoke's six in a game where double the amount might have been handed out to them—but was Whitehead's reaction one of acceptance, of reticence, of apology?
Whitehead, a 30-year-old, jumped up raging and screaming over 17-year-old Sterling and pointing his finger at a player for going to ground too easily, effectively trying to seduce the referee into believing he had dived.
That is the opinion the Stoke City players tried to cultivate of a rookie with not even 20 professional appearances to his name, who had been physically battered early in the game by 11 men who, combined, possess not half the technical ability of Sterling.
This, Mr. Tony Pulis, is "putting pressure on the ref." This is "simulation." This behaviour, which you encourage your football team to display on a regular basis, is an "embarrassment" to the game.
Did any newspaper report, postgame questions, match analysis or other general media discussion focus on any of these points?
Of course not. Let's focus on Luis Suarez's dive instead; that's the big issue here. That's the big devilry of the match which is destroying the game we love.
The Ones Which Got Away
Brendan Rodgers has recently been in the media talking about Suarez diving, noting that he was getting a rough deal from referees who were failing to spot the instances where the Uruguayan had been fouled.
Against Manchester United, Suarez had a case for a penalty, against Sunderland he should have had one, and against Norwich City nobody could quite believe that the referee somehow viewed a bizarre elbow-chop to the shoulder not worthy of a foul and, therefore, penalty. Another separate incident with Huth against Stoke might also have seen the Reds get a spot kick.
Seven games into the season and already four good-to-stonewall penalty decisions have been turned away by referees.
Is it Suarez's fault? Do the diving instances mean referees should be less inclined to give them when the situation calls for it?
Of course not; the suggestion is a ridiculous one. It doesn't matter if a player dives every week; when he is fouled in the box, it's a penalty, regardless of opinion or history.
Likewise, if a referee does his job properly in the first instance, after five matches of diving the player will be suspended for the next game as a result of accruing five yellow cards for simulation.
It's not only penalty decisions which are going against Suarez. Fouls from behind, in the air and when he embarks on his winding dribbles on the ball are all going unnoticed—or noticed and unpunished, just like Huth's stamp—in matches.
Huth should have been sent off regardless of the stamping incident. A series of free kicks were given away by the German defender, but not until he pulled down Suarez's ankle as he lay prone on the ground, with the forward speeding away from him, did Lee Mason put an eventual end to the ridiculousness.
Stoke teammate Michael Kightly picked his words superbly when he said referees needed to "stamp down on diving," effectively and unwittingly making himself one of the only people to bother giving airtime to both incidents in the game.
Liverpool need Luis Suarez playing at his best to help their early-season form, in terms of points won, pick up.
Suarez is a player who gets incredibly frustrated when decisions go against him. That in itself is an issue that only he himself can sort out, as is his decision to flop to ground as he did at Anfield last weekend.
But the referees—and, as we've noted, opposition players—are just as much to blame as the Uruguayan is for the overall furore surrounding the most recent Liverpool game.
The trouble is, only Suarez is receiving the flak for it.
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