Salut! Sunderland has been banging on for years about diving, the feigning of injury, unprofessional attempts by players to get opponents booked or sent off and other forms of cheating. The issue is raised with every “Who are You?” interviewee and I can think of only one or two who said too much fuss was made of it.
But should we really accept that British players are largely blameless, or that they were until they caught the nasty habits of Johnny Foreigner?
Francis Lee was a diver. Gary McAllister produced the most skilled, graceful dive I have seen at the Stadium of Light or anywhere else, starting in Ryhope and ending up in our penalty area, duly hoodwinking one of the Tring Grahams (Barber not Poll) and stealing a point for Liverpool.
Non-Liverpool fans have frequently accused one of the club and England’s most admired players of recent years, Steven Gerrard, of being a serial diver. Then there was Theo Walcott.
Gareth Bale took it to a high art form, Ashley Young tries hard to emulate him and Jay Rodriguez – not known as a regular culprit – was guilty one of the most blatant examples in recent seasons. And I am sure readers can readily call to mind numerous other English, Scottish, Irish and Irish players who have habitually tried to fool referees, often succeeding. British pundits, bless ’em, witter on about a player being “entitled” to go down.
But let us hear out the academic responsible for new research suggesting that foreigners are indeed the main culprits.
Tom Webb, from Portsmouth University’s department of sport and exercise, says his study* shows the “growing trend of player deception” is directly linked to the large number of foreign players in the top flight.
Dr Webb bases his findings on interviews with nearly 40 refereeing professionals from England, Spain and Italy,.
“Diving is a massive problem in football and there is a constant battle against it in the sport,” he said. “It’s such a sensitive issue because it involves someone trying to cheat and often significantly affects the outcome of the game.
“This study found that the practice of diving is more accepted in countries like Spain and Italy and South American countries, such as Brazil and Argentina, so players from these countries who play in the UK are more likely to be responsible.”
A Spanish referee interviewed for the research said the problem had increased in England because so many players of other nationalities and cultures have been imported. In contrast, said this ref, English players had traditionally respected the laws of the game.
Salut! Sunderland regulars will know of the ironic question posed in our “Who are You?” interviews, asking opposing supporters whether cheating is now so commonplace that we may as well give up and and put the teaching of it into coaching manuals.
Dr Webb found it’s already happening. As last week’s Spurs interviewee, Richard Littlejohn, might well say, you couldn’t make it up. But other Spanish refs told the researcher they were convinced players were being trained to dive and deceive officials.
“The situation is a problem, not just one player,” one said. “It is one of the most difficult problems for us because there are players who are very good actors and I think they train during the week to confuse the referee.”
Over to the Salut! jury. Lots of questions arise.
* are foreigners really to blame for spreading a rotten culture of cheating?
* who are the worst perpetrators, homegrown or from abroad?
* are football supporters too ready to condemn opposing players and overlook cheating by their own?
* is this not a depressing piece of “on the one hand murder is wrong but on the other … ” drivel: “Diving in football divides opinion across the world: some view the act as a legitimate form of gamesmanship, while others see it is a black-and-white issue regarding cheating.” (from that Bleacher Report piece – link above – mentioning Rodriguez)
* is it fair or jingoistic to suggest, as that Bleacher contributor and Dr Webb do, that some cultures applaud cheating provided it’s done well?
And more. Your shout …
* The above draws on material from the article on Dr Tom Webb’s study published by Sport, Business and Management: An International Journal
Why do certain cultures, especially pPanish and Latin AMerican, seem to regard