If you will, imagine the scene on July 11 next summer in Johannesburg. There are five minutes left in the World Cup final. England are playing the favourites Spain and, though their opponents have dominated, the score is still 0-0.
The commentary: “Spain, relentless in their surge towards England’s goalbut Hargreaves robs Iniestaand sets Gerrard free. Rooney’s haring towards the penalty areaGerrard finds himacross comes Pique. Oh, what a good tackle! BUT WHAT’S THIS? The Columbian referee has given a penalty! Rooney wasn’t touched! Surely that was a dive!”
Lampard steps up and sends Casillas the wrong way. England 1-0: the final score.
Read the papers the next morning. What’s the predominant headline? “England Rule The World!” Yes, it isn’t “Rooney Cheats To Win England The World Cup!”
There is a tidal wave of hypocrisy and cop-out over diving or, to use its official term, ‘simulation’. However, much like that ‘Spanish performance’, I have been relentless in my condemnation of the practice. It’s cheating and is the biggest problem in today’s game. I have never shirked my responsibility at pointing the finger at authorities who refuse to take proper action against it.
But the condemnation of David Ngog — jumping to avoid Lee Carsley’s lunging tackle and then, to his shame, theatrically diving forward to ‘win’ a penalty — bordered on the xenophobic. I don’t defend the French youngster but would we have been as condemnatory had it been Gerrard or Rooney, Cole or? Sorry, I’m struggling to think of an appropriate Englishman in the Arsenal team!
The problem is that we ‘pick and choose’. It’s long over-due that we in the media and, more importantly, the authorities — the FA, UEFA and FIFA — tackle this disease head on. Stop pussy-footing around. Forget a player’s nationality or his ‘high-profile’. Nail the cheats. And don’t let Eduardo off even if he is a foreigner.
Both the managers of Liverpool and Birmingham City said that it hadn’t been a penalty at Anfield but you’re not telling me that Rafa Benitez pulled Ngog aside afterwards, told him the amount of the club fine and said he’d be ‘out the door’ if it ever happened again. And nor would Alex McLeish if the culprit had been James McFadden.
Diving will only be eradicated if the punishment is enough of a deterrent. The occasional yellow card — and they’re flourished hap-hazardly — isn’t sufficient. Why not treat it like violent conduct and hand out a three-match ban?
And, if the referee hasn’t seen it — I felt really sorry for Peter Walton, a good official, who didn’t warrant the criticism he took — then do what should be done after EVERY controversial incident in a game: sit down afterwards, watch the televised coverage of the match and hand out retrospective punishment if it’s appropriate.
Only then might we begin to get rid of diving.