For all Salut! Sunderland knows, Leon Osman is a regular at church, helps old ladies across the road, spends hours daily feeding the homeless and plays Scrabble without even thinking of snatching a sneaky glance at everyone else’s letters.
He also stands accused of being a prize cheat.
The name of one of the questions posed in our regular “Who are You?” questionnaire to opposing supporters – about attitudes to diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents sent off or booked and all the other dishonest acts that go on in football today – changes every so often.
It was the Eduardo Question after his sensational dive to win a penalty for Arsenal in a Champions League game against Celtic. It very nearly became the Ngog Question when he not so much dived as went into orbit for the same reward in a Liverpool game against Birmingham City. It did become the Walcott Question when Theo admitted – honour following the crime, since he also apologised – that he had tried the same trick for Arsenal. And this season’s antics at St James’ Park, when the culprit was still a Newcastle player, saw the arrival of the Barton Question.
That means the question has covered diving and feigning injury, the latter also embracing the act of trying to get opponents sent off (Barton’s intention, as he admitted later, and one that was fulfilled).
Salut! Sunderland has consistently said it is no less contemptuous of cheating when perpetrated by players wearing our own colours. So some thought was recently given to the possible introduction of the Larsson Question.
Seb’s dive at Wolves was deplorable, even if the keeper then saved his feeble penalty and we could blame our subsequent collapse and defeat on the entire episode. But we did not duck the issue because football had somehow found its own revenge; bad as it was, the dive was not in the Eduardo or Ngog category and fell miles short of meriting elevation to the McAllister league.
But Osman’s actions at the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day were also in a class of their own. It is rare for a player to produce an air kick before kicking the ground, falling over and winning a penalty in the same brief incident. It is rarer still for such actions to inspire a nonsensical decision on the part of a world-renowned referee such as Howard Webb. But even that sequence would have been insufficient, on its own, to clinch it for Leon.
From the ‘Who are You?” feature (with an Everton supporter, “Avinalaff”) before Monday’s game:
Q: The Barton Question: was the Eduardo Question, could have been the Larsson Question after one recent incident. Those names cover feigning injury and diving but which form of cheating most angers you and what would you do to stamp it out?
A: I don’t like players who get other players sent off by feigning injury. Lafferty of Rangers feigning that head butt was a disgrace. Diving is just as bad. I hate cheats, and would boo anybody who cheated in a dark blue shirt.
In an age where cheating brings success and wealth, no one in their right mind would actually expect a professional footballer to own up in such circumstances. Even so, had Osman hauled himself shame-facedly to his feet, said nothing and simply allowed fate to take its course without playing any further part in the process, we would have felt unable to make this award.
He makes it his own because having fallen over in a manner that made him look a bit of a fool, he immediately raised his arm to claim the foul he surely knew had not been committed. It is not as if there was the minimum contact that occasionally occurs in the box, raising the ordinary cheat’s hopes of a penalty, or even that he had steered his foot deliberately into the path of an opponent (Cattermole’s reputation making him the perfect stooge in such a ruse).
(Modified paragraph taking account of the pleadings made below on Osman’s behalf): It is difficult not to conclude that Osman knew the cameras would show there to have been no contact whatsoever, and that what he then did amounted to a blatant act of dishonesty in the hope it would bring an instant return. If that was his mission, he succeeded because Everton will therefore have won the point they deserved not by a fairly struck goal but by fraudulent means. If he has been misunderstood, as many Everton and one or two Sunderland supporters believe, and genuinely thought he had been clipped from behind, then what a pity this was not stated immediately after the match.
Mr Webb has yet to make the public apology that would win respect from quite a few of us. But Salut! Sunderland does not believe for a second he committed anything other than an honest, if appalling, mistake. If Mr Osman feels any of the above to be unfair, and has a wholly innocent explanation (fearing he might otherwise be booked for diving doesn’t count), these pages are open to him.
In the likely absence of any such explanation, the next opposing supporter to accept the “Who are You?” challenge will be asked the Osman Question.