Eng­land’s div­ing skills are noth­ing to be proud of

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - DANIEL TAY­LOR

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

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