Here’s something fun you can do on your break at work today: google “Wayne Rooney dive” and watch any YouTube video. After that, try Andy Johnson dive, Ashley Young dive, and Steven Gerrard dive. In the pantheon of divers, Rooney, Young, and Gerrard are gods among men.
Now look at this stat courtesy Matt Dunn of the Daily Express:
Most pens won since 02/03: 14-Andy Johnson, 11-Young, Bent, 10-Agbonlahor, Crouch, 9-Gerrard (spot a theme)?
Did you spot the theme? Well, in case you missed it Kun Aguero would be glad to help.
Yesterday, Aguero bravely opened himself up to criticism of “racism” by claiming that English referees treat foreign players harsher than they do the local boys. Prodded by a reporter with a question about whether he thinks foreign players don’t get penalties as easily as their English counterparts, Aguero’s answer was actually more nuanced than many headlines make out:
Yes, always. It happens everywhere. There is a little bit of privilege with players who come from that country, but that is normal. We just play our game, and the referee’s job is to know who is tricking him and who is not. 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.
Bang on cue, a reporter (the same one who started this with his question to Kun?) asked Sir Alex Ferguson what he thought of this firestorm over Aguero’s claim that foreign players being treated differently and his response was predictable:
As a subject it is not worth going down because we have known for quite a few years there are plenty of players diving and, you have to say, particularly foreign players.
But since this was specifically a question about whether Nani should have been awarded a penalty, Ferguson went on to say that what he meant was foreign players except…
Nani is not the type to dive, he has never been that type of player.
Now google “Nani Dive”… I’ll wait.
Plenty of players dive. In fact, almost all of them. Diving is so ubiquitous in the game that next time you see a player refuse to go down in the box if it even looks they are fouled, mark your calendar. This happens so rarely that we could make that an international day of celebration: “Wayne Rooney Stayed On His Feet Day.”
And more to the point, diving is not something that only foreign players do as any simple google search shows. The English boys do it just as much as (if not more than) the others.
But the problem is that among referees once you have a reputation as a diver, you nearly have to be decapitated to win a penalty. And thanks to the press not challenging the assertions of Ferguson and helping to glorify English players versus Foreign players that reputation seems to build much quicker for a foreign player than it does for his English counterpart.
But here’s the thing I have a real problem with. The English players with a penchant for going to ground easily, don’t seem to suffer the same fate as the foreigners. Andy Johnson (remember him? used to play for Everton?) was one of the first to be accused of serial diving. And yet, he’s still the number one player on that list Matt Dunn tweeted. Ashley Young is currently one of the most egregious serial divers. He’s number two on that list.
Arsenal fans are aware of this bias acutely. After the press slaughtered Eduardo for a dive against Celtic, nothing Eduardo could do would win him a penalty. Even after Eduardo’s departure Arsenal still feel as if there’s a bias against their club as they haven’t won a penalty in the League at the Grove since April 2011.
Maybe Arsenal would win more penalties if they played Theo Walcott as a center forward and told him to stop staying on his feet like he did against Chelsea. Or maybe, just maybe sports reporters who cover the Premier League could start doing their job and challenge the assertions of managers like Fergie that foreigners are the ones who dive most and start listening to players like Kun Aguero. Rather than adding fuel to the fire.