Diving in the EPL: A Prejudice Against Foreign Players

Russell HorneCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2008

What do Robert Pires and Cristiano Ronaldo have in common?

Yes, both are known as the super talented free scoring wingers of Premiership history.  But there is another side to their games, a side much maligned by pundits and Premiership managers alike:

They “simulate” to win free kicks and penalties.

Pires’ most famous instance of simulation was against Portsmouth to earn his side a 1-1 draw.  Ever since the player has been met with prejudice.

Last season against Middlesbrough and Tottenham, Ronaldo won penalties in which the contact was minimal.  He now has a bad reputation, and was even booked against Fulham for avoiding the onrushing Anti Niemi.

The argument against simulation is another touted by those who feel there are too many foreign players in the Premiership, citing the sneaky technique they have brought to the game.  But are foreigners really the problem?

"I'd never dive," says Wayne Rooney. "I'd like to think of myself as an honest player.  That's the way I play.  I don't like diving, football doesn't need it." 

Rooney certainly feels diving is a major problem.  The more serious problem, however, is the attitude that only Johnny Foreigner dives, and that when English players like Rooney attempt to deceive referees it is a penalty “won.”

Rooney himself “won” a penalty after tripping over absolutely nothing in the Manchester United vs. Arsenal matchup of October 2004.  United went on to win that game, ending Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten streak, and manager Alex Ferguson described Sol Campbell's decision to stick out his leg as key, glossing over the fact that there was no contact.

Similarly, Rooney attempted to deceive Mark Clatterburg at White Hart Lane this weekend.  

For those of you who didn’t watch the game, it is understandable if you haven’t seen or heard of this incident as the dive isn't easily found in the match reports of many papers—the Daily Express and the Guardian didn't mention it at all.

MOTD also saw fit to leave the incident out of their highlights—presumably the event did not fit in with their portrayal of Rooney as the “English Wonderkid.”  (Interestingly, MOTD did a 10 minute piece after Didier Zokora's dive against Portsmouth last season).

Most embarrassingly, the dive was described in the Daily Mirror as “sheer determination not to finish on the losing side,” while Ronaldo's complaints to the referee had him characterized as a “spoilt prima donna.”

The erroneous opinion that diving has been imported by foreign players has got to stop.  Every time Steven Gerrard's “momentum takes him over” or Joe Cole “cleverly wins a free kick,” diving is trivialized.  But when a player such as Zokora, Ronaldo, or Pires dives he is vilified, booed with his every touch of the ball.

Until the problem is recognized as one not exclusive to those born outside the country, it will never be tackled, it can never be solved.