Ashley Young has been earning himself quite the reputation the past few weeks, but it’s a reputation that will ultimately come back to haunt both him and Manchester United in the future. There is a reason that he is allowed to get away with his Tom Daley impressions on the pitch and we all know what that reason is. We all know what needs to be done to prevent people from diving and baiting the referee into giving penalties and free kicks, yet it appears that the majority of football federations would much rather remain in the stone ages instead of utilizing the technological advances we have at our disposal today. It’s a problem that plagues every league on every continent and even with the proper technology available and in place there will still be the bold few who continue to dive. It’s something that will always be a part of soccer no matter how much we all bemoan it and say it’s wrong.
I don’t condone players who dive or make a meal out of a challenge because of what it takes away from the game. However I personally don’t blame the players for doing it. We can call them cheats, crooks and actors until we’re blue in the face, but until there is a way to deter such actions then the players are doing something that is gaining them a competitive advantage. The old adage “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” is something that only the bold would subscribe to, but with the “Win Now” mentality that is employed in every major sport you cannot be surprised when someone will do anything to achieve their goals. The fact of the matter is that Manchester United is within touching distance of the Premier League title and they’re going to do everything possible to make sure that they can win it. If Ashley Young earns a penalty from a dive, is there going to be an asterisk next to the title in the history books? Is Sir Alex Ferguson going to say at the end of the season as he is holding the trophy that they “didn’t deserve to win it”? Are the millions of United fans going to feel shame for winning the trophy because of some controversial calls? The answer to all these questions is no. That’s because winning is the magical elixir that cures all that ails you. Years from now people are going to forget that Ashley Young got Shaun Derry sent off for a hammed up challenge. All that matters in the end is that United won the title and put even more distance between themselves and Liverpool as the most successful club in English Football.
If the old curmudgeons who are in charge of all the major football federations do decide to act and employ the appropriate measures to punish such actions, then you will see a dramatic reduction in the amount of dives. Right now as it is, if a player is caught diving, most of the time he’ll only receive a yellow card, which is not really much of a deterrent at all. But if a player is retroactively penalized and given a harsher punishment, such as a red card or a three match ban, then the incentive of diving is almost negated. Sure he might get his team a penalty and a goal, but in the long run he’ll end up hurting his squad by not being available for selection. It’s impossible to rely on referees to determine what a dive is and what isn’t. If they determine a player has dived and the call is judged to be wrong then they come under the same scrutiny than if they had called it the other way. It’s safer for them to assume the penalty because even if it results in a penalty kick, there is still a chance for the other team to prevent the offenders from scoring, therefore letting them off the hook for a questionable call if they don’t score.
The flip side of the coin for Ashley Young is that his new reputation as a dive master is going to hurt Manchester United in the long run. Referees are going to be more watchful of him and the next time he goes down, one would think the referee would think twice before automatically awarding the penalty. It’s the story of “The Boy who cried Wolf” and may end up costing him a deserved penalty. If the title race comes down to Man United not getting a result because of Young’s new found reputation, then he will have no one to blame but himself. Like all things diving works when you’re winning. But if you dive and lose, then you’re not only a cheat, but you’re a loser as well.
We all know what needs to be done to try and eradicate diving from the sport, even the heads of the federations know what needs to be done. Whether they’ll admit it is another story altogether. But until that day comes when replays and retroactive punishment are enforced to the fullest extent, we’re left with just yelling at our TV’s and taking to Twitter slandering players and clubs alike. I don’t blame Ashley Young for doing everything he can to get ahead, it’s something we all do. But if United don’t achieve their ultimate goal, then all of a sudden Ashley Young turns from a player who will do anything to win to just another run of the mill cheat.