He was detested by a lot of people when he was at Manchester United, but Gary Neville's astute summary of diving in football is the latest example of why he is the best pundit there is...
Gary Neville is fast becoming my favourite television football analyst. Granted, there isn’t too much in the way of opposition but he is so far ahead of anyone else in terms of giving real technical insight and straight talking opinions, he puts the rest to shame.
That said, I can’t help but love Roy Keane’s acid tongued honesty, too. If there’s one thing Keane can’t be accused of, it’s sitting on the fence. The way he puts Gareth Southgate in his place when he’s trying to be diplomatic puts me in mind of my bastard of an English teacher whenever one of us decided to offer any opinion on Shakespeare at school. Keane shoots him a look of disdain and batters him back down into his place with a statement that’s meant to be as final as contracting the Ebola virus. Southgate giggles nervously and Chiles moves the discussion on.
In less than twelve months, Neville has morphed from a veritable hate figure outside the walls of Old Trafford into one of the most respected faces of Premier League coverage. Even if you still hate him, you can’t deny his ability to point out the less obvious nuances of the game.
Not afraid to leave the comfort of his seat to demonstrate how a defender should position himself in a 1 v 1 duel or even show old clips from his own career on how not to defend, Neville is putting his starch stiffened peers to shame. His vocabulary even stretches beyond the two staples by all BBC pundits, “sensational” and “diabolical”, to describe the action.
I can’t help but liken in him to the ex-England cricket captain, Michael Atherton, in that it has surprised me how much I enjoy listening to him. Despite both of them coming across as less than jovial characters during their playing careers, they articulate their points with great clarity and a brutal honesty. True, Atherton may be the more cerebral of the two but Neville’s lack of waffle is probably one of his greatest assets.
I’d heard many people within the game extolling Neville’s impressive knowledge of the game but I never honestly thought he’d have the wherewithal to put his points across as well as he does. It’s got the stage now where I actually make a point of catching his pre-match preachings. His appeal reaches further than just you’re average man in the stand. Tuesday mornings are always spent picking the bones out of whatever topic Neville has got his teeth into the night before. And that’s the key to his popularity. You believe everything he’s telling you. With Neville, there’s no predetermined agenda or any attempt to protect old comrades. His view is the undiluted truth.
I’d heard many people within the game extolling Neville’s impressive knowledge of the game but I never honestly thought he’d have the wherewithal to put his points across as well as he does.
They way he dealt with the Ashley Young issue this week was as spot on as you’re going to get. He rationalised a subject which has increasingly become the focus of the pitch forked campaigners who see their protests as an attempt to drive the “cheats” from our game. He laid it down in plain and simple terms, without the up-in-arms, “that’s a disgrace” gesturing of dinosaurs who have lost touch with the game.
I can’t stand the holier than thou attitude that diving wouldn’t be tolerated in their day. Well, here’s the newsflash: it’s not 1976 anymore. I dare say, they’re only speaking the truth but just as it may be unlikely that Graeme Souness would go down easily in the box if he was playing today, I’d be even less inclined to black-up my face and sing songs from Al Jolsons greatest hits. Times have moved on. Then again, I suppose going over the top of the ball and amputating an opponents leg from the knee down is acceptable, eh, Graeme?
Just as Neville was reluctant to label Ashley Young a cheat, I’m prone to feeling exactly the same way. “Cheat” is a very strong word. However ridiculous Young’s dive might have been, there’s a big difference between talking advantage of a defender’s stray leg and, say, a player who has taken performance enhancing drugs.
Just as Neville was reluctant to label Ashley Young a cheat, I’m prone to feeling exactly the same way. “Cheat” is a very strong word.
Some may disagree but this is a professional sport where peoples livelihoods and millions of pounds are at stake. The difference between relegation and survival could mean the difference between jobs being lost or saved so can you blame a player for trying to gain any advantage he can? I mean, what lengths would you go to to keep hold of your job?
What Ashley Young did wasn’t cheating, he was merely taking advantage of the defender’s lack of experience. If there is one thing Young is guilty of, despite his recent success at winning penalties, it’s that he’s actually not that good at it. He’s far too dramatic and makes it all too obvious, especially with the way his legs split in mid-air. Their movement is totally unnatural and should be an immediate tell-tale sign to the referee that he’s dived.
The act of winning penalties has become an art, an art which has progressed to Oscar winning standards so if you are going to do it, at least make sure you’re convincing. It’s no longer enough just to go over easily under the merest hint of a challenge. Players actually kick out a leg towards the defender to ensure contact is definitely mate. But is it cheating, or is it being clever?
I actually know a lot of people who would call it clever. Most other nations around the world see it as a part of the game, almost a skill and so should we. We shouldn’t look at it as conning the referee but a form of oneupmanship against your opponent. Whilst playing in Denmark, I would go blue in the face trying to convince them that our view of winning in the right manner or not at all, is the way that sport should be played. Eventually, after years of seeing us taken advantage of by “cleverer” nations, I tend to side with them now. It’s not a case of if you can’t beat them, join them, either. It’s a simple fact that for too long we have been taken for mugs.
We don’t live in an age of corinthian values or hold true to those of the olympians of ancient Greece. With so much at stake in modern football, wouldn’t you want your players to do everything within their powers to bring success to your club?
The ethics behind amateur sports are indeed noble but that’s the thing. We don’t play for free and the fans don’t watch for free so why do we still cling on to these ideals of yesterday? If you want fair play and gentlemanly conduct every time you enter the field of play, go and play crown green bowls.
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