From roughly late August to mid May, segregation in the family home is quite commonplace of a Saturday night for UK and Ireland residents. The return of ITV’s The X Factor coincides with the return of Premier League football to the TV screens, which more often than not can cause a succinct divide in communication between members of the household, torn apart by Simon Cowell’s sob-story fueled, music-battering beast and none other than the beautiful game.
Easy choice. Well, it is for me, and two weeks ago, I was sat in my usual Saturday night spot, watching Match of the Day, laughing along with former Republic of Ireland midfielder turned pundit Mark Lawrenson, who had just let out a slight giggle watching Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic take a tumble inside the penalty area. “Ivanovic goes down like Jimmy Krankie and threw in a bit of a twist,” said the former Liverpool star who looked gleefully at the show’s presenter, Gary Lineker, as if to say, ‘Is he serious?’ This wasn’t the only diving incident in Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Stoke, as we also saw Brazilian international Oscar demonstrate to the punters why he should be considered the favorite for Olympic Gold in the Diving category when the games take place in his home country in 2016. Lawro said; “They are both dives. Oscar should have had an Oscar the way he went over.”
Following the defeat at Stamford Bridge, a frustrated Tony Pulis called for the FA to consider the punishment currently in place with regards to ‘simulation.’ Pulis said: “The FA should pull people up for diving and give them a three-game ban straight away.” The Stoke boss continued: “Ivanovic would be looking at three games, Chelsea wouldn’t be too happy with him and I don’t think he would be diving around anymore.” The events at Stamford Bridge have sparked up controversy as well as general banter about an all too familiar aspect of the modern game. Llast weekend marked the sixth week of Premier League soccer as one or two shock results occurred as well as an all new debate in regards to the subject of diving.
The champions, Manchester City, struggled to a victory over ninth-placed Fulham at Craven Cottage, bailed out by an 87th-minute winner from substitute Edin Dzeko, much to the relief of Argentine striker Sergio Aguero, who netted the equaliser in Saturday’s clash. When questioned after the game about Man City’s recent fortunes with regards decisions, the Argentina international remained quiet on the subject saying: “I try not to get involved with problems involving referees.” However, Aguero admitted his frustration at what he feels is an inherent bias present in the English game. Asked if foreign players have a tougher time from officials than English players, Aguero replied: “Yes. Always. It happens everywhere.” The former Atletico Madrid man’s comments came in wake of decisions going against international teammates Pablo Zabaleta and Carlos Tevez for separate penalty appeals. “Here in England, there are almost as many foreign players as English players and it’s not right that some have a privilege that others don’t,” said Aguero, who famously fired home the winner against QPR last season, on the final day of the season, which assured City the League title for the first time in 44 years.
Sergio Aguero’s sentiments are sure to be shared be another South-American striker playing in the division who has, according to his manager, gained himself a reputation as a diver.
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez gave Brendan Rodgers his first league victory as Liverpool boss after the Uruguayan fired home a hat-trick against Chris Hughton’s Norwich City side at Carrow Road. The 5-2 victory has been considered a promising sign that Rodgers’ system is now beginning to take effect at the Merseyside club, emerging from the shadow of the club’s most dreadful start to the season in 101 years. However, the former Swansea City boss has his fears over Liverpool’s number 7 who in the last two consecutive league games has been denied what Rodgers calls two stone-wall penalties, as the Uruguayan also picked up a yellow-card for simulation when his side visited Sunderland 3 weeks ago, despite replays showing the penalty shout was legitimate. Down through the years, lots of Premier League stars have struggled to escape being branded cheats, or divers (think Drogba, Ronaldo and last but not least David Bentley) and Rodgers now expresses that; “There is that fear” with Suarez. Following his side’s victory, the Antrim man conceded: “I could tell you about three or four strikers who go down in the box with very minimal contact, and all of them have had penalties this year. Everyone in the ground saw it was a penalty. Apart from the referee.” So is it all about reputation? Nationality? Or is it merely coincidence that has Sergio Aguero up on his high horse?
According to football statistics firm Opta, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has been the most-fouled player this season having been awarded 10 free kicks in the final third. He is closely followed by Reading’s Pavel Pogrebnyak who has been fouled no less than 8 times this season. Liverpool’s Suarez is tied with Robert Snodgrass of Norwich and Fernando Torres of Chelsea on 7 fouls each, whilst Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and West Brom’s Shane Long have both been fouled 6 times this season. So it is clear to see where the decisions are given.
But what of those who have been accused of diving and consequently punished? According to Opta, Liverpool have picked up a total of 6 bookings for diving since the beginning of 2011/12 with Suarez leading the charts with a total of 3 bookings for simulation. Reputation.
Before I’m shot down in a hurry by any fellow Liverpool fans, I am not accusing Luis Suarez of being a diver. You can decide that yourself. However, I do feel that reputation is everything in this instance, and being booked twice last season for what referees deemed ‘simulation’ has caused a heightened awareness, not just from defenders, but also from officials, when Luis Suarez enters the box.
So what about Aguero’s argument that nationality is a huge factor? Well it seems that Sir Alex Ferguson is in agreement with the Man City striker. However, he has this week expressed a belief that foreign players are indeed more likely to hit the deck than most homegrown players. On the eve of his side’s Champion’s League clash with Romanian side Cluj, Sir Alex defended United’s Portuguese winger Nani, following accusations that the 25-year-old had dived under the challenge of Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen in last Saturday’s clash at Old Trafford. Fergie said: “We have known for quite a few years there are plenty of players diving and, you have to say, particularly foreign players.” But the United boss insisted: “Nani is not the type to dive. He has never been that type of player.” His comments follow those made last April in relation to the topic, when Ferguson warned United’s Ashley Young claiming he ‘overdid’ his fall to win a spot-kick against QPR at Old Trafford.
So what do you think? Are these theatricals more likely to come from foreign players than English players? Or is it a case that foreign players are, as claimed by Aguero, harshly treated by officials? Maybe it’s the officials who are to blame? Share your thoughts below.