One of the things that I can't stand with the media coverage in this country, especially when it comes to football, is the hypocrisy of the English media when an "English" player decides to take a dive rather than a foreigner.
When Cristiano Ronaldo used to grace the Premiership whilst playing for Manchester United he was regularly pulled up by pundits, ex-players, current players, fans and celebrities—anyone who had an opinion on football.
More often than not, it was by anyone who had an opinion on Ronaldo post 2006 World Cup. He was lambasted by the English press for coming to the defence of one of his countrymen who had just had his groin stamped on rather crudely by the hot headed English Prince of football, Wayne Rooney, Ronaldo's club mate.
Now I am not going to defend Ronaldo for going to ground at the hint of any contact, but there are two points I would raise in Ronaldo's defence. The first being that 7 or 8 times out of 10 there WOULD be contact between Ronaldo and the opposition. It may only be the slightest of touches but at least there was contact.
The second being that the boy was legitimately fouled, sometimes maliciously, on so many different occasions that his diving was the same as the centre half's overly aggressive foul that goes unpunished.
Yes it is cheating—but its cheating in the context of, "If these guys aren't playing fairly, then why should I?" And let us not forget, these blatant fouls on Ronaldo did not start when he was becoming arguably the worlds best player.
They had begun from the minute he dazzled Old Trafford with his trickery against Bolton in 2003. So for 6 years the boy was kicked from pillar to post with no protection, often referees taking the view that he would dive with no contact. I can at least attempt to defend Ronaldo. The press though? They came with the typical xenophobia about foreigners "going to ground too easy" or them not "being ready for English football".
The same can be said for Didier Drogba, who was diving like it was going out of fashion at one stage. Things became farcical when Jens Lehmann, the ex-Arsenal keeper, came out of his box to confront Drogba. They went head to head, chest to chest like two men who were about to "step outside"—and then they both fell to the ground holding their faces like someone had glassed the two of them.
For two fully grown men, both in excess of 6'3 and 13/14 stone of solid muscle to go down quicker than Katie Price, was ridiculous. After diving to win a penalty against Man City in the 2007/2008 season, Drogba even went as far to admit that at times, he did dive. Although he hastily retracted that comment, no doubt after the club got wind of what he had said, the fact that he openly admitted to it was not a cause of celebration as it would be for some as we shall see. Instead, and rightfully so, Drogba was lambasted by his team mates. The fans at Chelsea for a couple matches afterward actually went out and booed him and the media.
The thing with Drogba which makes it hard for anyone to accept is not only is he foreign, but he is also a beast of a man. This made Drogba learn the true value of what he was doing. Nada. None. He changed his ways and although from time to time he does still go down like he's been shot, those moments are about as rare as John Terry cheating on his missus.........oh wait.
However whilst Ronaldo was taking a pasting for actually getting fouled there were several other notorious Englishmen emulating Ronaldo in the sense that they too would go to ground when there appeared to be little to no contact at all.
But the major difference was that Ronaldo would actually come into contact with another human being. With certain English players, they must consider their bootlace an opposition player because that was the only thing that was touching them en route to the turf.
On the opening day of the 2006/2007 Premier League season (19th August 2006 to be precise), Liverpool opened their Premier League campaign away to Sheffield United, recently promoted under Neil Warnock from the Championship. Trailing 1-0 and with the game entering stoppage time, Steven Gerrard alias Stevie G, better known as Stevie ME, took a heavy touch into the Sheffield United area where he proceeded to dive over the outstretched leg of a defender. The penalty was awarded and since Gerrard didn't have an England shirt on, he scored the penalty and the game ended in a draw that deprived Sheffield United of 2 precious points.
When you consider there was only a point in them staying up or going down, it must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Sheffield United players, staff, fans and management alike.
There are two reasons why this was not a penalty. Firstly the "offence" took place on the edge of the area and not inside it, and secondly IT WAS A BLATANT DIVE! The only respectable person in the football fraternity that dared to speak out against Stevie Me was Neil Warnock, the outspoken opposing manager. Match of The Day with its strong Liverpudlian bias was only strengthened by the presence of Hansen, Lawrenson (ex Liverpool) and Lineker (ex Everton).
Then in a Champions League group game on November 4th 2008 that Liverpool had to win at Anfield against Atletico Madrid, Stevie Me was up to his old tricks again. Trailing 1-0 and attacking the Kop, Gerrard burst into the box from the right hand side to chase a bouncing ball. As he jumped up to control the ball with his chest, he received the slightest of nudges in the back from an Atletico defender and flung himself into the air like he was jumping out of a plane skydiving. It was embarrassing to watch. Nonetheless, the penalty was given. Gerrard converted it and Liverpool got a draw.
Did the English media see it? Nope. It seems they developed a case of the Arsene Wenger (temporary blindness from at key moments).
Michael Owen, 7th June 2002 against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup. He sees a leg, goes over it, no contact whatsoever—penalty.
Taken. Scored. Winning goal. No more is said about it.
Some call it revenge for the "Hand of Alex God" but really is it revenge? I think it's cheating. Do two wrongs make a right?
Wayne Rooney, the (rather ugly) Prince of English football, is another Englishman who believes his profession also has likenesses to that of actual divers.
The date—October 24th 2004—Arsenal are 49 games unbeaten and head to Old Trafford looking to make it 50 not out when 70 minutes in Wayne Rooney sees Sol Campbell stick out a leg and over he goes. The referee incorrectly gives a penalty from which Van Nistelrooy makes it 1-0 and the rest, along with Arsenal's incredible undefeated streak, is history.
What do the commentators/pundits have to say about it? "You can't leave your leg out like that, your asking for trouble" and the pundits favourite, "he won a penalty for his team there". They actually attempt to lay the blame for Rooney's dive on Campbell attempting to make an honest challenge in the box. Maybe that was a one off?
Nope. Same man, same team, same opposition, same ground, same competition, hell even the same end of the ground.
It is the 29th August 2009 and Rooney is running onto a through ball and into the Arsenal box. Out comes Almunia the Arsenal keeper and dives at the feet of Rooney. Rooney knocks it round him and goes down when the two men collide. However, you can see, even in real time if you look at his legs, that Rooney, as soon as he knocks the ball round the keeper and the angle of a shot on goal decreases, begins to head toward the ground.
Before there is any contact.
What I mean by this is we see players like Rooney hurdle challenges like this all the time, but on this occasion, he slows down, his knees already bending, his legs already slanting, ready to fall upon impact with the keeper. The two collide, Rooney goes down, a penalty is given, the keeper is booked and the spot kick is converted by young master Rooney and subsequently the game is turned on its head at 1-1. Man United go on to win the game 2-1. Again, was there a moral outcry regarding Rooney's antics to get the penalty? No. "Oh there's definite contact there" was the general theme from most pundits. Yes there was contact but Rooney MADE sure there was contact. He could have skipped over the keeper but he chose to run into him. It's hardly the keepers fault it a player RUNS into him is it?
Rooney's list of shame also includes dives against Aston Villa and Man City last season one of which, his dive in the Villa game, earned him a booking. With United losing 0-1 at home to Villa, Rooney charged into the box, then fell over an opponents outstretched leg, not too dissimilar to what he did against Sol Campbell in 2004. This time however, the referee was on point and duly booked him.
Now I contend that if these were foreigners, they would be roasted for it. Case in point, Eduardo, the ex-Arsenal striker who now plays for Shakhtar Donetsk. During the 2009/10 qualification for the Champions League, Arsenal, who had come fourth the previous season, had to qualify through the pre-lims. They drew Celtic with the first leg played at the Emirates on 26 August 2009.
Eduardo, having rounded the goalkeeper, seemingly threw himself to the floor. From every angle on every replay you could see that it was a dive. However, the English media quickly turned it in to a witch hunt and they evidently wanted to see Eduardo punished. UEFA at first obliged and Eduardo was hit with a 3 match ban, however, upon appeal, the decision was overturned and no ban followed. This, would be commended in most countries, countries such as Italy where they have a retrospective punishment system that allows the Italian FA to dish out punishments after the game for late fouls, dives, handballs, dissent etc.
However I find it hard to credit the media or the FA or whomever pursued this witch hunt with such vigour because as I have said, when it is an Englishman whom dives, they apparently get away with it. The media doesn't want to hound them out in the same way they do with a foreigner.
Most recently, Theo Walcott admitted two weeks ago that he had in fact dived against Leeds in the FA Cup in an attempt to win a penalty. For an hour after his confession it was news.
Then that was it—as if it had never happened. It was never mentioned again.
The following day in the papers? A few inches, and even then, it was about how brave and honest the lad Walcott was in admitting that in the heat of the moment he had dived. No witch hunt, no three game ban imposed, no uproar—nothing.
They simply found cause to celebrate Walcott for attempting to cheat. However, when it was Drogba who admitted to diving, he was not celebrated as an honest professional. He was cheating, the foreign rascal. So whats the difference in the two? Nationality. One is English, one is African.
I don't mean that in a racist way as Theo Walcott is mixed race, but in the sense that he, Drogba, ain't English.
So why do the media turn a blind eye to Englishman not called Tom Daley or Blake Aldridge who dive? Embarrassment? Ignorance? Shame? This macho "we're harder than anybody else on the planet 'cos we're English, look at our fans even when its minus -2/3 degrees we take our shirts off 'cos the colds scared of us" mentality? Well obviously not because they are embarrassed or ashamed about it.
Surely the way to embarrass someone is to expose them as being a diver and let them know that football fans won't stand for it—as they do with foreigners.
Perhaps it is because they are worried that if they admit that English players AS WELL AS foreigners cheat, that people might lose respect for England as a footballing nation (even though that has already happened).
Maybe its because the media want to believe that we are BETTER then everyone else, that we have morals and standards. The line that people always draw concerning this debate is this myth that diving has only emerged into the English game with the arrival of foreigners into the Premiership. Well what a load of tosh that is. Agreed that during the 60's, 70's and 80s football became much tougher and harder than it is today. But to say that English players never took a dive before the 90's and the Premiership is like saying that no Jews were killed in the holocaust.
It ain't true and can be proven but there are still people who will try to make you believe that. Francis Lee, the ex Man City, Derby, Bolton and England player had a bit of a reputation for going to ground too easily or with minimal contact and he played in era where the only foreigners in the league came from Scotland, Northern & the Republic of Ireland or Wales, Scouseland and Geordieville.
Its time that English football, which regards itself almost as whiter than white, opened it's eyes to the world in 2011.
Diving is a part of football in the same way that players will appeal for corners, throw ins, goal kicks etc that they know aren't theirs. They can still try and see if they can trick the referee into awarding it to them. Same with throw ins. Throw ins are never taken from the exact spot the ball has run out of play from. Instead players walk up 6-7 yards further from where the throw should be taken, AND THEN take a 6-7 yard run up to launch it back into play. Is that not cheating?
It seems players take free kicks from a spot they pick within the vicinity of where the foul was awarded. Ive seen players place the ball a yard or two to the left or right of where a foul took place to get a better angle. Or move the ball closer or further to suit their technique. Is this not cheating, moving the ball from where the offence took place in order to further get an advantage?
Everyone, regardless of race, nationality, creed, religion or sexuality does it. Perhaps it is time English football embraced it like most of Europe and South America where diving is not so much considered cheating but an art. If you can con the referee into awarding you a free kick or penalty that wasn't actually warranted, than go for it.
If you get caught? Better luck next time.