Michael Owen last night admitted he could have stayed on his feet when he won penalties against Argentina at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, but insisted he did not "dive". The striker said three-quarters of players who go down in the penalty box after contact with a defender could stay on their feet, but part of the skill of being a striker was luring your opponent into conceding a penalty. This, he made clear, was different to simulating contact which he did not condone.
"I'd say that 75 per cent of people could stay on their feet for a penalty, and if they get touched and go down it is almost, 'he got touched so it's OK to go down'," said Owen. "I have been guilty as well. I played at the 1998 World Cup against Argentina and I was running flat out, got a nudge, went down. Could I have stayed up? Yes probably."
That was in St Étienne, in a round of 16 tie. Alan Shearer scored from the spot-kick but England went out on penalties. Owen was speaking at Leaders in Sport at Stamford Bridge where he was sharing a platform with Pierluigi Collina. Turning to the Italian former referee Owen added: "Four years later you gave me a penalty against Argentina. Again I could have stayed on my feet – the defender's caught me and I did have a decent gash down my shin from it, but I could have stayed up."
That was a group stage game in Sapporo. David Beckham scored, England progressed with a 1-0 win, Argentina went out. In both cases the defender made contact with Owen and he added: "There is a major skill in trying to outwit an opponent. In a one-against-one you're trying to draw people, to commit them, to get into the box because you know as soon as you have got them in the box they are petrified of sticking a leg out.
"There is a part of a striker that tries to entice the leg to come out to win a penalty. It is a skill and it has been done for years and years.
"I'm totally against diving, I have never been for it or sought to get a penalty without being touched, but you try to push the boundaries to win a game for your team without cheating."
Owen added: "Diving, simulation, is worse than 10 years ago. English players are as guilty of foreign players are of doing it but the foreign players started the ball rolling.
"When I was young and watched Italian players doing it and it didn't happen here."
Also on the platform was the Wigan Athletic manager, Roberto Martinez. "I had a player that used to dive a lot – he wasn't British," said Martinez.
"When you are in Spain and when you are young to be able to get decisions and penalties from referees is as good a skill as being a good defender, it is not seen as cheating. It is as seen as getting something back for the team. Here we see it as cheating."
Collina had the final word: "A player has a right to fall down if a foul was committed. If he falls down and there is no contact this is cheating."