Sunday, 15 September 2013

Ashley Young not the Only Villain in Football's Theatre of Cheating

The new season is still in it's infancy and we have our first major diving controversy. It's like we've never been away. Manchester United's first home win under new manager David Moyes was marred by the actions of Ashley Young who was guilty of at least one diving offence during the game against Crystal Palace. Having been already been booked for 'simulation' during the first half, Young then controversially 'won' United a penalty after going down following a challenge by The Eagles' South African midfielder Kagisho Dikcagoi. Leaving aside the fact a penalty was an incorrect decision simply because the 'foul' took place outside the box, there are questions raised over whether it was even a foul at all. As we've established, Ashley Young had no issue trying to con the ref earlier in the same game and it was only a year or so back when he was being roundly condemned following two similar incidents against QPR and his former club Aston Villa.

Defence of such incidents usually has some former pro (9 out of 10 times, it's Michael Owen) incorrectly claiming that if the contact is there, a player is 'entitled to go down'. We also hear talk of 'inviting contact' and 'drawing fouls' to attempt blur the lines even further but this merely serves to ignore the obvious point that contact does not necessary mean an offence has been committed. Dikcagoi was clumsy and he did 'touch' Young but does that really constitute a foul? Call me an idealist but until the law is changed to outlaw any physical contact in the game, I don't really see how you can justify taking a tumble based on the slightest graze from an opposition player. Are you really 'entitled to go down' if no foul is actually committed? Even when an infringement is attempted, if a player is able to stay on his feet, there shouldn't really be an encouragement for him to do otherwise.

The fact that this is open to debate shows that the battle to rid the game of such behaviour is probably already lost. Diving seems, sadly, to be a part of the fabric of the game. Stan Collymore, one the more vocal former players, wasn't shy in putting forward this view when he tweeted the following in relation to Young:

I don't necessarily buy into the “good ol' days, when men were men” soundbites usually trotted out by those who don't understand that the game has moved on significantly since the days of knee-high tackles, pitches resembling First World War trenches and terrace racism. However, Collymore has a point about the 'badge of honour'. Standing up for yourself (literally and metaphorically) was something a player would pride himself on. Not now, it seems.

Unfortunately, his argument falls apart when he brings nationality in the equation. Stating that you specifically hate seeing English players cheat suggests that you are more concerned about taking the moral high ground rather than wanting to see the problem eradicated completely.

And while we're at it, it may seem absurd to show any sympathy towards Ashley Young but why should he be the only one singled out? It's almost impossible to imagine that he will be the only player involved in a diving debate this season.

It all contributes to the prevalent culture of cheating that exists in the game. Players seek an advantage wherever they can, both fairly or unfairly - be it incorrectly claiming corners/throw ins when the ball goes out of play or time wasting to run down the clock. We've all seen incidents where attacking players deliberately play the ball into the outstretched arms of defenders to win penalties. Is that actually any worse than diving to achieve the same outcome? Genuine question.

Perceived underhand tactics rarely receive prolonged widespread condemnation. At least not to a point where anyone is likely to do anything about it. David Moyes has claimed to have had a word with Young but then again, so did Sir Alex Ferguson previously. Teams are hardly dropping, fining or selling players for their misdemeanours. Cheating in football isn't punished sufficiently and while people believe they can get away with it, it will continue to take place. As Young (and others) knows, sometimes you get the breaks, other times not. If he wins his side 2 or 3 penalties a season, I'm sure he'd be prepared to take the odd yellow card too.

Ask the fans and they'll tell you it's wrong - but only when others do it. If it's their team, you can expect some of the most tenuous interpretations of the laws in order to justify their man doing the dirty. Taking this example, you'll have Liverpool fans slaughtering Young yet defending Suarez and United fans doing the same with the protagonists reversed. Worst of all, you get some fans attempting to explain away one of their players cheating by pointing out that "everyone else is at it". The hypocrisy is enough to make your head explode.

You even sometimes hear such behaviour described as 'clever'. When this is the accepted rhetoric used, it almost feels embarrassing to try and suggest that fairness and/or sportsmanship should even be considered. The win-at-all-costs mentality means that, sadly, these two unwanted guests have no place in the modern game. Dive on.

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