England’s diving skills are nothing to be proud of
PRESUMABLY, everyone is up to speed by now about the reassuring news from UEFA, permanently trying to find different ways of curing football’s ills, that it has launched disciplinary action against Besiktas because of the pitch invader that briefly interrupted the club’s Champions League tie against Bayern Munich.
Even by UEFA’s standards, it’s a belter of a story given that it was actually a ginger cat who had wandered in off the streets to investigate what all these silly humans were up to. Unfortunately for Besiktas, nobody at UEFA appears to be aware that cats, as a general rule, do as they please, rather than what they are told. Nor is it particularly easy to understand what Besiktas should have done to avoid the charge of “insufficient organisation”.
I mean, how does one organise the pussycat community of Istanbul these days? Should a saucer of milk and tin of Whiskas be kept by the dugout just in case?
It was interesting, though, that there was nothing from UEFA about what happened the following night when Arsenal played Milan in the Europa League and the latest evidence that maybe it was time for the people in charge of these affairs to reassess their priorities.
A few paw prints on the pitch at Besiktas certainly seemed less offensive to me than the sight, once again, of a professional footballer duping the officials into awarding a penalty and it is strange, to say the least, that UEFA doesn’t employ the same rule as the Football Association, whereby the relevant player would now be banned for two games. There is an option to take retrospective action if the referee or match delegate raised the matter. Plainly, they didn’t — and I doubt Danny Welbeck, the player in question , will care too greatly that the headline in
Corriere della Sera was ‘Affondati da un tuffo’ — ‘Sunk by a dive’ — or that Enrico Currò, the correspondent for La Repubblica, described it as a moment Italy’s most famous high-board diver, Tania Cagnotto, would have been proud of.
Not that the Italian media are demanding Welbeck is put in stocks outside the Duomo. One newspaper’s description of Welbeck as “cunning as a weasel for pinching a penalty that never was” comes across as praise rather than condemnation and Corriere dello Sport actually made him man of the match, acknowl- edging his movement, his two goals and the way he won, then scored, the penalty that turned the game heavily in Arsenal’s favour. It’s a different culture, far more conditioned to players who dive, but that doesn’t mean to say English football can be arrogant enough to give itself a pat on the back. I still see no English player as unsteady on his feet as, say, Diego Costa or Didier Drogba. But the gap is closing and it is starting to feel like a close-run thing.
For the hard evidence, just look through the list of players Gareth Southgate has called up for England’s forthcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy and tot up the ones who have previous for these kind of deceptions.
All four of the players listed as forwards, just for starters. Raheem Sterling and Jamie Vardy have made an art form of initiating contact with the defender and then going down in the penalty area. Marcus Rashford’s dive to win a penalty against Swansea last season was one of the reasons why the FA beefed up its rules. Welbeck has just proved Arsène Wenger’s point about English players taking over as the “masters” of diving — if you remember the penalty Welbeck won against Wigan at Old Trafford in September 2012 you might argue this is nothing new.
When it comes to the midfielders, it is not just Dele Alli who appears to consider thespianism just an extension of all his other talent. Jesse Lingard and Jordan Henderson have both been booked for diving, and in the kind of games when it is bemusing to think they felt it necessary to try it on — Lingard in a Europa League tie against Midtjylland and Henderson in a League Cup tie against Exeter.
Alli is, however, the worst of the lot by some distance: a serial offender who has been booked three times for diving since his Premier League debut in August 2015, as well as getting away
The difficult part is knowing what to do about it now it is such an unshakeable part of football life. The new FA rules have changed little and it didn’t need UEFA’s inaction after the Arsenal-Milan tie — a game, incidentally, when a Milan player, Suso, was booked for diving — for one to suspect European football’s governing body still doesn’t understand why so many people find it a turnoff.
Danny Welbeck is awarded a penalty against Milan on Thursday night