The only time diving and simulation in football isn’t a grey area is when Michael Owen voices his opinion on the subject and then it becomes a beige, mushroomy coloured area with all of the life drained right out of it. Ask a dull person a question, you’ll get answers so bland you’ll end up suffering from a form of snow blindness. So when questioned about the topic du jour of diving at this week’s Leaders In Football Conference, we should really have expected predictability.
When I say he was asked his opinion, this doesn’t necessarily mean what he came back with actually constituted an opinion of any form, it was more of a comment on diving/simulation using a wide range of generic answers that he thought other people may have given when asked what they thought about the same subject. We were left thinking the same thoughts as every other time we listen to an interview with Michael; “Why bother asking him?”. He's clearly been well schooled in the Shearer Academy of Footballing insight.
However, what he did do was to admit going down easily after the mildest of challenges from Argentinian defenders during the World Cups of 1998 and 2002. Taking advantage of those poor old, naive, stupid Argentinian defenders who dared to stop him scoring. What did they think he was going to do when the came within touching distance of a then world class striker? Stay on his feet? Don’t be silly.
The older and more experienced I became, the more I shared the blame between myself and my opponent whenever I gave a penalty away in dubious circumstances
In admitting his willingness to go down quicker than Tulisa in a home movie, Owen has opened himself up to accusations of being a diver and ultimately, a cheat. Which is exactly what happened in the following day’s newspapers. Cue outrage and an indignant response from Owen, tweeting his dissatisfaction at the coverage his comments were given. My only question to this would be “What did he expect”?
It’s not as if his comments were revelatory. After all, football fans have eyes in their heads and many do have an IQ score of over 50. It’s not as if his momentary lack of balance had ever gone unnoticed in the past, rather than displaying brutal honesty he was merely pointing out the obvious to us.
These perceived grey areas of football which diving covers, aren’t as light as some may think and whatever colour Owen wishes to paint the degrees of cheating, the shades of grey are immaterial. Whether you cheat a little or you cheat a lot, if you see simulation as cheating, then it's deception, full stop. But no, no. Owen won’t have us believe he’s in the same category as someone like Luis Suarez, though. He won’t have you calling him a cheat. What he does is different, apparently.
In admitting his willingness to go down quicker than Tulisa in a home movie, Owen has opened himself up to accusations of being a diver and ultimately, a cheat
Not that he criticized Suarez mind you. When asked about the Uruguayan’s ridiculous dive against Stoke he refused to “comment on individual cases”, using the get-out clause of someone who hasn’t got a solid argumentative leg to stand on. Surely, if there is a distinction between professionalism and cheating, and you are so disgusted at being labeled the latter, you should be willing to distinguish that line yourself by making a stand against those who do it to the extreme. By refusing to comment on an incident which is such a blatant example of what some see as an acrobatical abhorrence, he undermines his own stance against it.
You can’t admit to going down in the box when you could’ve stayed on your feet without opening yourself up to criticism from purists who believe all gamesmanship to be out with the morality of “the game”. Not that I’m one of those, may I add. After playing outside of the UK for four years, I grew to appreciate that when it comes to our attitude towards simulation, we’re as adrift from Europe as the British Isles themselves. It’s not seen as cheating but a sign of intellect. It’s the clever players who win penalties and the dumb ones who give them away. If you give a striker the opportunity to go over, you’re the idiot.
The older and more experienced I became, the more I shared the blame between myself and my opponent whenever I gave a penalty away in dubious circumstances. I accepted that he was trying to gain advantage for his team, whilst I’d be admonishing myself because my reactions hadn’t been quicker or that I hadn’t taken the ball more cleanly.
If there is to be any sort of resolution to this, then the Premier League, FA and Football League need to begin looking at these instances retrospectively by using a panel of ex-referees, players or coaches and handing out heavy suspensions to those found guilty of overly exaggerated and persistent diving, as is practice in the SPL. The result of this is two-fold: players will either try to stay on their feet for as long as possible or become so proficient at it that even the panel can’t tell if they are diving or not. Either way, the game will be improved. It's foolish to think we'll ever totally rid the game of diving but if we are to tackle the issue head-on, retrospective punishments are the best chance of putting an end to the triple pike efforts of the games biggest culprits.
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