As Manchester United retained their five-point advantage at the top of the English Premier League on Sunday, the main talking point from the game wasn’t their comfortable 4-0 victory over Aston Villa.
It was the penalty awarded to them in the sixth minute after winger Ashley Young fell dramatically inside the box.
While Young looked to have been fouled by Ciaran Clark even United boss Alex Ferguson admitted the player’s reaction was over the top.
Two incidents in back-to-back games have seen Young architect a foul to win a penalty – and he has achieved maximum success.
But in doing so, he is earning a reputation as a ‘diver’. This is a tag which could prove difficult to shake and will surely bring some awkward moments for Ferguson in the future.
While the British media label such histrionics as ‘the act of deception’, the Latin argument quantifies the same act the ‘art of deception.’ The ability to con the referee to win advantage over an opponent is seen as a skill, a craft and a player just doing his job. Asked if he was worried Young was getting a reputation for going down too easily Ferguson said: “In the last week or two, yes. I’ve never seen that in him. It’s not a habitual thing in him. He was brought down, he just made the most of it.”
The backlash towards Young has seen many purists angered by his alleged play-acting. It is a trait many English journalists believe was brought over by the influx of foreign players into the Premier League. Diving before then wasn’t as common as it is now and it isn’t what English football culture is recognised for.
Players are brought up and developed in tough environments where those who go down easy are seen as weak.
Interestingly, this season has seen more home-based players found guilty of play-acting than their foreign counterparts.
Along with Ashley Young, Liverpool’s Andy Carroll, Tottenham’s Gareth Bale and Newcastle’s James Perch have all been accused of going to ground too easily, much to the annoyance of those who were more than happy to shift the blame away from the English players.
In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian, Tottenham winger Gareth Bale defended himself when questioned about the perception of him being a diver. “If people want to say I’m diving then they can but I’m trying to get out of the way. You have people flying in at you and if you stand there, you’re going to get a whack.”
While there may be an element of truth to this, those against Bale’s antics point to Lionel Messi as a prime example of someone who stays on their feet despite being hacked down by defenders.
But is the dive just part of playing the game?
Someone going down easily, feigning injury or trying to get a fellow professional sent off is infuriating to watch but some cultures accept this as part of the game. When a player steps on the hallowed turf they have the mindset to win the match by any means possible.
This is viewed no differently from Cristiano Ronaldo doing a step over to fox the opponent by changing direction, a penalty taker stopping his run-up to commit the goalkeeper before taking the kick or even the famous Johan Cryuff turn from 1974.
It comes from the ethos that while these skills are thought out to con the opponent, the referee can also be viewed as an opponent that needs to be deceived.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger weighed in on the argument by suggesting an automatic three-game ban for anyone guilty of diving. Yet he also agreed that with the stakes so high players will always try and manipulate situations to gain the advantage.
“Everybody wants to win football games and when you have played football, you always try to be on the fringe if you want to win. For example, you touch the ball and it goes out you shout: ‘throw in for us’,” said Wenger.
Wenger’s suggestion of a three-match ban could act as a deterrent for players found guilty of diving but how is a ‘dive’ to be defined. A player losing his balance and play acting are difficult to differentiate.
What about other sportsmen and women? Is it any different from a batsmen in cricket standing his ground even though he knows he has nicked the ball or a tennis player challenging a line call knowing full well the ball went out?
Athletes will always look for ways to come out victorious. While fans and purists look down upon deceptive individuals as untrustworthy and unreliable, in the sporting arena, the art of deception could be the difference between being crowned world champion and receiving the runners-up medal.
Check out the article on Al Jazeera