Monsieur Salut: would I have taken survival last season, would I take survival this season, if it depended on a blatant act of cheating by a Sunderland player? Easy to say no when, in the heart, you might mean yes, maybe or depends. But I’ll stick to my guns and say no. And whatever individual fans feel about matters affecting their teams, football as a sport should rise above natural human instincts to win at whatever cost …
A realistic breath of fresh air or a deplorable attempt to defend the indefensible? That appears to be our choice as we assess the Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino’s efforts to shrug off diving as unimportant.
Salut! Sunderland has never sat on the fence. Diving is cheating. It should have no place in the game. Perpetrators ought to be boiled in oil or, if medieval punishments are out of fashion, suspended for three or more games. When a Sunderland player dives, as Dele Alil does so often for Spurs, we make no attempt to defend or excuse.
We ask opposing supporters for their views too, in our Who are You? interviews (it’s currently called the Niasse question, has been named after Eduardo and may now become the Dele Alli question). Overwhelmingly, they condemn the practice along with the other forms of cheating – shirt-pulling, wrestling at corners, rolling around in fake agony, waving imaginary cards – even if they are even more disgusted by brutal, often career-threatening foul play.
But Pochettino is quoted by the Mail and elsewhere as saying we really shouldn’t get so worked up about it.
‘Twenty years ago, 30 years ago, it was like “all congratulate the player when he tricks the referee”. In Argentina but in England too. You believe that in England you were honest and always perfect. That is the football that I was in love with when I was a child. Football is about trying to trick your opponent. Yes or no?
…The problem now is that we are so sensitive about the situation. And then we are so focused on Dele Alli’
The interview does get a little confused, with Pochettino admitting that his player’s yellow for diving against Liverpool was the correct decision. So cheating is both a “minimal detail” and wrong. Maybe it’s a question of language; I have virtually no Spanish but certainly in French, there is little or no difference between “tricking” and cheating.
But the weight of Pochettino’s remarks shows him to believe the fuss some of us make about diving is excessive.
With huge respect to one of the best managers in the land, that is not a remotely respectable argument. Cheating is contrary to the spirit of this or any other game that wants to be taken seriously and the quicker and more harder it is fought the better.
There are grey areas but VAR and properly constituted panels applying restrospective judgement should be able to identify clear cases of attempting, with or without success, to hoodwink referees and make a mockery of fair contest. And those cases, demonstrably watertight examples of sporting fraud, should be punished with lengthy bans, fines and, if necessary, points deductions.
The Spurs boss is certainly correct to point out that English players cheat just as much as the foreigners lazily blamed for importing the practice into the Premier and Football Leagues.
He was a victim 16 years ago when Michael Owen “won” a penalty for England in a World Cup game versus Argentina after going down under a challenge by Pochettino which replays showed involved no contact.
But all’s fair in football, even when it’s self-evidently unfair, he seems to be saying. And my own fear, reinforced by his comments, is that players will try – with the encouragement and even coaching of their managers – to carry on cheating while doing their utmost to cheat more successfully.
You, of course, may disagree ….