Wayne Rooney proves that simulation is more entrenched than ever in English soccer


England manager Roy Hodgson had a chance to make a stance of sorts on diving during his television appearance for the BBC during Manchester United’s 3-1 win over Preston North End in the FA Cup last night.

Granted, not an emphatic, abrasive stance—nobody really expected the England manager to lambast his national team skipper Wayne Rooney for a blatant act of simulation—but to be as dismissive as Hodgson and indeed Phil Neville both were about Rooney’s tumble said plenty.

Of course, there’s always going to a natural reluctance from both men to lambast the United man—they’ve both worked with him at length in recent years—but the way in which terms like “evasive action”, “changing direction at speed” and “opportunistic” were used point towards the irreversible entrenchment of simulation in the modern game.

Only Kevin Kilbane—a former teammate of the England man during their time at Everton—had the guts to call it what it actually was: a dive. As did former Southampton star Matt le Tissier on Twitter, per The Mirror:

“It’s a dive. Rooney didn’t dive to get out of the way of the challenge he did it to win a penalty.  …

“Apparently from now on everyone should jump out the way of any tackle on a pitch and expect a foul from the ref because of ‘intent’.”

This is not an isolated indictment of Rooney either. The England man saw the chance to win a penalty for his team, put a difficult game beyond doubt and took it; Plus, it was foolish for the Preston goalkeeper for rushing out and challenging in such an erratic manner. Defenders, just like they’ve had to adapt to various refinements in the modern game, need to get a lot more savvy dealing in these kinds of underhanded tactics deployed by attackers.

During the recent Premier League encounter between West Ham United and Manchester United, Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard co-commentated the game for NBC Sports and admitted live on-air that he’d encourage his forwards at Everton to indulge in these kinds of ploys:

“Ask the question of the referee. Make him make the decisions. If it’s one of my guys and there’s an incident in the penalty box, go down.

“The referee will either book you or give a penalty or not, but you have to let the referee make a decision.”

It’s sad to see, but the hyperbole surrounding diving seems to be gradually filtering away as it becomes an increasingly familiar commodity. As already mentioned, the incident involving Rooney hasn’t stirred much outrage in the notoriously reactionary British media and even Premier League players are revealing an open willingness for teammates to test the mettle of the referees.

Nonetheless, on talkSPORT in the aftermath of the match, Stan Collymore suggested that as the captain of both the Red Devils and the Three Lions, Rooney should be setting a better example, per the Telegraph:

“He toe-pokes the ball past the goalkeeper, who he knows is coming out quickly, and he dives. That’s cheating, we’ve had this debate a million times.

“When you wear that respect campaign armband, you owe it to the fans and the game not to do that. I’m bitterly disappointed, he is the England captain and Manchester United captain and he’s better than that.”

Truth be told, it’s little surprise that even players like Rooney as well as up and coming stars like Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling—both have been accused of simulation this season—have developed this kind of streak to their play. After all, if everyone else is doing it, taking a virtuous abstinence would be to the player’s and his team’s detriment.

Would Collymore feel the same if a Rooney tumble won England a penalty in the last minute of a World Cup knockout match? Or Sterling accentuating contact helped win former club Liverpool the FA Cup this season? You suspect probably not and in the wake of important victories, the ends thoroughly justify the means.

Perhaps action could be taken against culprits in retrospect, but it’s very troublesome to categorically brand someone as a diver. For the average supporter, it’s clear that Rooney accentuated the challenge and took a fall, but debate has raged on social media nonetheless. In this instance or any comparable to it, what jurisdiction do governing bodies have to effectively label someone as a cheat beyond any reasonable doubt?

It’s a precarious situation and as noted by Howard, the pressure on referees to notice these marginal decisions means that they can be swayed with an astute deployment of gamesmanship. With teams and players striving to accrue an edge at every level of the game, it’s little surprise there are plenty are exploiting this murky facet of soccer.

Rooney did so against Preston, capping off a fine comeback for his team. But if Louis van Gaal and his side eventually lift the trophy at Wembley come the end of the campaign, you can’t image there’ll be many at Old Trafford ruing the underhand exploits of their captain that pushed United into the last-eight.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball


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