Picture the scene. It’s the Final of the European Championships and unbelievably, England are there. We’ve somehow circumnavigated the usual quarter final penalty shoot-out defeat and we’re on the cusp of victory.
At nil-nil with 10 minutes to go, Ashley Young bears down on goal and is caught by the fullback. I say caught, gently brushed or stroked may be a more appropriate description but he goes down like he has been rugby tackled by an New Zealand All Black and the referee gives a penalty.
Rooney steps up and in one moment all those years of hurt and disappointment are gone as we lift the trophy and reign supreme.
Does that make Ashley Young a national treasure for “winning” the penalty or is he a cheat?
I suspect many of those who have been so quick to condemn the United winger won’t give a monkey’s toss, as they drive round proudly flying their St Georges Cross car flags.
I also suspect that if he didn’t play for United and wasn’t about to win the league, it wouldn’t be as big an issue. That’s not because I am pro-united, it is simply a fact. We all take pleasure in knocking those at the top. There is little fun to be had in mocking Wolves.
But it is a worry. What was once thought of as a problem with foreign import’s, is quick becoming the norm with their English counterparts.
Ashley Young, Andy Carroll and James Perch have all been highlighted as taking a dive in recent weeks and they’re not alone (pretending you have had your nose broken when heads have barely touched is just as much a dive as an attempt to win a penalty Mr Perch).
Common denominator is of course that they are all English.
If United win the title this year as I expect them to do, little attention will be given as to how they got there. It will simply be recorded as another title for the honours list. But for those United fans who have celebrated the outcome of Young’s theatrics, if not the act itself, a word of warning. A player dubbed a diver can be as counter-productive as he is useful.
Many years ago, prior to a game at the Emirates, Arsene Wenger highlighted the fact that Andy Johnson had, shall we say, an unfortunate knack of being brought down in the box and winning a penalty. Given that he had the pace of an Olympic sprinter and the build of a Borrower; it’s perhaps understandable you would think?
When moving at the speed many top class professionals do these days, it is difficult to remain balanced with even the slightest of touches but that said, his attempts to stay on his feet were at best described as nominal.
The damage was done.
Everton didn’t win a penalty that day or indeed for what felt like the next 5 years. You see mud sticks. Rightly or wrongly, once you’re labelled, that’s it.
We’ve had it even more recently with the troublesome Royston Drenthe. During the Sunderland quarter final at Goodison Park, we were denied what looked like a penalty when he was brought down inside the box.
However, given Drenthe’s ability to not only fly through the air but then pirouette and twist with all the prowess of a Romanian gymnast, meant that it was waved away. As were the 76 other free kicks he tried to “win” that day.
And that’s where the biggest problem lies. Take the scenario I’ve detailed above and flip it on it’s head. Let’s say Young is bearing down on goal and is taken out. A stonewall penalty and certain red card. It’s not too much a stretch to imagine that the referee in charge may have watched highlights of the premiership at sometime over the last 12 months.
He knows what Young’s about and whether he knows it or not, the tag of diver is firmly planted in his sub-conscious. Makes the decision more difficult doesn’t it.
How will we all feel when he waves play on?
The increasingly impressive Stan Collymore (if only he had put as much effort, commitment and determination into playing the game as he does his journalism, you can only imagine what a player he would have been) recently told a story on national radio when discussing the same issue.
In perhaps his last cap for England, he came off the bench against Brazil and whilst trying to go past the last defender on the edge of the box was caught, only minimally but he was caught. Stan tried to stay on his feet and ultimately the move fizzled out.
He was later questioned by the then England Manager and one of his coaching staff as to why he never went down for the penalty.
Until we make this a bigger issue, then I’m afraid the problem will not only continue but escalate further.
The FA have proven recently their inability to right an obvious wrong and that’s the problem. They hide behind not wanting to undermine a referee on a decision he has made but surely for the greater good of the game it is important that we get the right decision, regardless of whose pride may be hurt by that.
If they continually feel that they are “undermining” the same official, then he probably isn’t fit to officiate and that’s another issue.
They only get one look at an incident and that may be at 100 miles an hour. Why not give them an opportunity to review the match on DVD afterwards and take retrospective action if they feel appropriate? They may have missed something, been too harsh or to lenient but allow them to fix that if needs be.
The Pepe Reina and James Perch was a prime example. If we are following the letter of the law, then Reina must go. He led with his head and the rules say that is a red card, regardless of the fact that it was little more than kiss.
But James Perch ensured he was sent off with his over the top reaction. What should have happened was that the Reina red card stood but with retrospective action against Perch by way of at least a yellow card. It would certainly make him and others think about doing it in the future.
Even though, like many, I will celebrate in the summer if we win by a penalty won in dubious circumstances, it does leave a bad taste. Cheating is cheating no matter which way you gloss it up.
Some will tell you it’s part of the game and something we will have to accept but why?
Tackling from behind and two footed challenged were also part of the game not so long ago but they were soon outlawed and few could argue the game is worse for it.
Why should we accept cheating?
26 years after the event we don’t accept and can’t forgive Diego Maradonna for his hand of god but is that really that much worse than taking a dive for a penalty? The outcome is quite often the same.
The authorities need to take a hard line on this and until they do, the problem will continue to fester and grow into a much wider epidemic.
Non-contact football anyone?
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