In this age of outrage we find ourselves living in it doesn’t take much for vast swathes of the population to become frothy-mouthed and furious.
From ill-judged tweets to sponsorship deals with pay-day loan companies; it feels as though football is constantly in a state of heightened nervous tension, awaiting another controversy to set its followers quivering with rage.
One such atrocity appears to be diving, or perhaps exaggerated contact constituting simulation. Hardly a new phenomenon, yet Early Doors can’t turn on a TV or open a newspaper at present without seeing the issue brought front and centre over and over again.
Rather incredibly, for example, Thursday’s back pages feature the “dive bombshell” that Michael Owen has ADMITTED diving to win penalties against Argentina in two World Cups.
Never mind the fact that technically he didn’t as he merely said he exaggerated contact, or that to anyone watching those games it was pretty apparent he had done so at the time.
In fact, a bleary-eyed ED half-enthusiastically raised a morning glass of beer to him for committing the act in Sapporo at the 2002 World Cup.
Owen was speaking at the Leaders in Football conference – a convention that has previous for attracting criticism for keynote speakers who deliver a heavy slice of truth.
It was here in 2010 when Danny Murphy made the astute observation that some managers were sending their teams out too pumped up and that dangerous tackles were a by-product – more on which later.
Having spoken honestly and thoughtfully on a subject that has more grey areas than George Clooney’s scalp, Owen was rightly aggrieved to see the debate framed in such a way. Particularly as he didn’t actually admit to any outright diving himself.
Upon seeing the reaction to his comments, the 32-year-old man rather optimistically and sweetly called ‘Boy Wonder’ by the Mirror took to twitter to write: “And so the sensationalizing has begun (as predicted). Shame you can’t have a good, honest debate in this country without people who have no idea whatsoever about the game being in a position to fire out news that is a sideshow to what was said.”
Such is the fallout when you touch on one of the great football outrages of our time. It is not the first example either. Look at the criticism Didier Drogba and Theo Walcott faced when admitting they were guilty of simulation in the past.
This is a subject that provokes intense emotion, an outrage that, ED feels, is consistently overblown.
Firstly, as Owen himself said yesterday, there is certainly a difference between an outright dive and what Owen admits to being a practitioner of.
“It’s a very difficult subject to talk about especially to people who have not played the game. There is a major skill in trying to outwit an opponent,” Owen explained. “For the actual player, 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 or doing anything. It is a skill to get them one-on-one or isolated.
“No one is for blatantly diving, of course they are not, but there is a part of a striker that actually tries to entice the leg to come out to try to win a penalty. It is a skill and it has been done for years and years and I don’t think it will ever leave the game.
“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.”
Done well it is a legitimate and sneaky dark art; done badly it can be hilarious. What’s not to like?
Outright diving is a different beast. ED is of the belief that if a clear dive can be proven, and absolutely no contact occurred, then a retrospective one-game ban could be applied in order to dissuade future culprits from blatant attempts to con referees.
Such an act is of course anathema to that famous British ideal of fair play, an ideal that makes this particular corner of the world rather evangelical and jingoistic about the ‘scourge of diving’ and allows us all too easily to ascribe the problem to foreign elements, who have come over here and taken our sporting ethics.
Though undoubtedly there are foreign football cultures that are more attuned to this particular form of dirty ops, to state so boldly, as Sir Alex Ferguson did recently, that “down the years there have been plenty of players diving, and you have to say particularly foreign players” smacks of borderline xenophobia. Mind you, this is a man who once said that if an Italian told him there was pasta on the plate, he would check under the sauce.
Ferguson’s comments also feed into the belief on these shores that, as an affront to British sporting values, there is something particularly pernicious about diving. This reached a ludicrous crescendo at the weekend when Michael Kightly claimed simulation was “ruining the game”.
Coming from a Stoke City player, no less, this was a comment swamped in irony, even before Kightly called on referees to “stamp out” diving after a game in which Robert Huth plunged his studs into the chest of Luis Suarez.
Ruining the game? ED might suggest that a far more damaging practice – as Murphy suggested two years ago – is allowing a culture to develop where bones can be snapped, ribs cracked and noses smashed by elbows.
Though Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale were both criticized for simulation, wasn’t the real outrage of last weekend the fact that Robert Huth and Robin van Persie were allowed to harm their fellow professionals with impunity?
Brendan Rodgers – British, yes, but more immersed in foreign cultures than many of his contemporaries – framed the debate nicely earlier this week.
He said: “As manager of this football club I find it incredible that in nearly all the coverage about Luis Suarez this weekend, very little focus has been placed on the fact that he was actually the victim of a stamping incident within the first five minutes of the game.
“Diving and simulation is obviously a wider issue in football and one that we all agree has to be eradicated from our game. But there were other incidents this weekend that didn’t seem to generate the same coverage.
“No one should be distracted by the real issue here, both at Anfield and at another game played on Sunday, when Luis and another player were hurt in off-the-ball incidents that went unpunished but were caught on TV cameras. I believe some people need to develop a sense of perspective and I also believe in this moment the vilification of Luis is both wrong and unfair.”
Defending Suarez is never a position that is likely to invoke widespread sympathy but Rodgers was undoubtedly correct. The moral outrage surrounding diving – a phenomenon that Owen felt for himself yesterday – is obscuring far more dangerous trends. Some perspective is required.