A cheat. An embarrassment. A disgrace.
All words used to describe Liverpool’s David N’Gog in the aftermath of last Monday’s game against Birmingham. Other media outlets demanded a 5 game ban. In a matter of seconds an unremarkable squad player catapulted to being the poster boy for all that’s wrong with the modern game.
It’s impossible to argue that N’Gog’s impromptu long-jump attempt, one that would’ve made Phillips Idowu proud, was in any way good for the sport. It wasn’t. It was a farcical bit of shameless cheating. However, the issue of diving in itself is not a black and white one, and the way in which these types of incidents are viewed in the game is riddled with the kind of inconsistency and hypocrisy that undermine attempts to remove it from the sport.
“When the tackle comes in and he stays on his feet, doesn’t get anything and the team lose … it’s a difficult balance.
‘In a World Cup, if someone took a dive and we went through, would the nation be slaughtering him?”.
Those were the words of Peter Crouch, speaking this week in an England press conference, and they capture the confused attitude English football has towards diving pretty well.
For one thing, outrage over diving is seemingly limited exclusively to people not born on these shores. That’s right, only the foreigners dive. As Crouch alludes to, the attitude of the public and media when an England player engages in a spot of simulation (as Micheal Owen and Steven Gerrard have done in the past) is radically different to the witch-hunts organised against foreign players like Didier Drogba and Eduardo.
As is the often used example, if on the 11th of July in Johannesburg, Jermaine Defoe topples over easily against Spain and wins a World Cup winning penalty, he’ll be a hero. If Fernando Torres does it against England he’ll be a pariah.
More examples of this can be seen at club level. A fortnight ago, Sunderland manager Steve Bruce blasted West Ham’s Herita Ilunga for ‘play acting’ after being pushed by Kenwyne Jones. “The one thing that we don’t want to see” he added, “is what goes on around the world, all this diving nonsense”.
As fate would have it, Sunderland’s next game, against Spurs, saw Darren Bent win a penalty after going down under the challenge of Heurelho Gomes. Replays would later show the England man was on his way to the ground well before any contact had been made, in a dive not too dissimilar from N’Gog’s, presenting the perfect opportunity for Bruce to show off his no nonsense attitude to “all this diving nonsense”.
“There is a difference between diving and taking evasive action. Stone-cold penalty, and it should have been a red card.”
Taking evasive action? That’s certainly a new one. There you go folks, N’Gog wasn’t diving either, he was simply taking ‘evasive action’ from Lee Carsley.
More mixed messages on the subject came from one of Monday’s main protagonists, Birmingham City striker Cameron Jerome. In an interview with talksport on Tuesday, Jerome said of N’Gog “It’s disappointing to see people that sort of calibre diving, it’s terrible. It’s not got a role in football what-so-ever. Now it’s happening more and more and I think the authorities should do something to punish these people that bring this into the game.”
However, when asked further about whether he’d ever dived, Jerome said “I’ve dived before. I haven’t blatantly dived, but I’ve gone down easily to win a free-kick.”
“It’s just when you’re on the end of it to be honest. If that was at the other end, we wouldn’t have been complaining.”
Through his honesty, Jerome – like Crouch – has hit the nail on the head. People aren’t really bothered about diving so long as it’s not happening against them. It’s these types of attitudes that provide the biggest barrier to clamping down on cheats. You reap what you sow. For as long as people within the game continue to react to diving in a manner reeking of self interest and/or hypocrisy, it will be an ever-increasing feature of the sport.