The diving debate
A trip to Dinamo Kiev in the European Cup in the late 1980s was the first time I'd ever experienced diving in football.
I was playing for Celtic, only 18 or 19 at the time, but the Dinamo players would do anything to gain an advantage. Set pieces would begin with them pulling out the hairs on the back of your leg just to get a reaction, but the worst was when they collapsed in a heap, usually with a piercing scream, under the merest of touches. Or none at all.
It’s something I could never stand and when I played for Middlesborough in 1996 it was a team-mate, not opponent, doing it instead. We had signed top Italian striker Fabrizio Ravanelli from Juventus and the Italian had soon introduced us to the tricks of Serie A.
He would dive to get any free-kick, on the pitch and in training, and he even once got us a penalty to win a match 1-0. The players were glad of the three points, but we warned Ravanelli in the dressing room after that this was England - he couldn’t do that here.
However, his defence was always the same: if he won a penalty, and we in turn won, what was the problem? That was the mentality of the players who came from abroad, just as former Manchester United defender Gary Neville claimed this week.
With the lucrative Premier League attracting more and more foreigners, diving became almost accepted. And, as Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger stated a few days ago, their British counterparts were soon emulating them. In fact, two players who I had run-ins with over diving, other than Ravanelli (right), were Alan Shearer and Kevin Gallacher. We were playing Blackburn at Ewood Park and Shearer, knowing I was already booked, took a tumble over my leg and got me sent off. He was clever, lured me in and I reacted with a rash challenge, frustrated that we were losing the game.
Gallacher, who I actually played with for Scotland, was cute as well, quick and nimble and always ready to win an easy free-kick or penalty off you. I fell foul of his tactics a few times, and it frustrated the life out of me - just as Ashley Young’s actions over the past few weeks, or Franck Ribery’s on Tuesday night, would have infuriated the guys from QPR, Aston Villa and Real Madrid. Both players tried to con the referee into giving penalties - the United winger succeeded twice - and it leaves you wondering why they need to do it.
Young and Ribery are brilliant footballers yet tarnish their reputations with diving. Their actions have opened the debate on how simulation should be punished and, although Neville argued it would only lead to “anarchy” in the game, I believe something seriously needs to be done.
Players who repeatedly offend should be banned. That’s the only way to hurt them, not in the pocket with ineffective fines. To do this, a panel needs to be set up to specifically root out divers, made up of ex-players and ex-referees so you have enough experience and authority there to review a player’s actions and determine if he intentionally looked to cheat the officials.
I fully understand it would be difficult to monitor, and that there is a fine line sometimes between a dive and a foul, but I’ve no doubt most former footballers could ascertain when someone has tried to deceive the referee. And if that player is found to have done it repeatedly over the course of a month or so, slap them with a heavy suspension. Retrospective punishment can work; we just need the Football Association, the Premier League, UEFA or FIFA to make it mandatory. It’s the only way to ensure diving will be booted out of football once and for all. Until then, the likes of Young and Ribery will continue to get away with simulation. After all, cheaters aren’t supposed to prosper.
I can’t believe the Premier League is 20 years old this season - I can still remember taking part in the very first round of fixtures way back in 1992! To celebrate, the league has launched its ‘20 Season Awards’ where supporters can vote for their best moments from the different categories available. Here are some of mine...
PLAYER - RYAN GIGGS: Without doubt the best of the bunch, the Man United star has won more titles than anyone (12) and played almost 600 league games - an incredible feat. The only man to feature in every season, and score in all 20, Giggs’ longevity at a club of that stature is truly remarkable. It’ll never be done again. I played directly against him as a full-back at Middlesbrough in 1992 and he ripped me completely to shreds. His stamina, and pace, was just incredible.
MANAGER - SIR ALEX FERGUSON: It’s got to be the Manchester United boss. He guided the club to a first title in 26 years in the league’s inaugural season and has added another 11 since. ‘Fergie’ is not afraid to stand up to a player, no matter how important they think they are, and his drive and desire, still so evident at 70, is amazing. He has produced three or four great teams and he’s a real character - his rants are infamous. The league would be a lot less appealing without the Scot.
GOAL - DENNIS BERGKAMP: People always ask if the Dutch master’s brilliant piece of trickery against Newcastle in 2002 was a fluke but, having played against the Arsenal striker, he meant it - don’t doubt it. He was the most intelligent footballer I saw, could see the bigger picture in his head long before anyone else. I remember thinking ‘how did he even contemplate that?’ Check out his moment of genius at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPzgP6Is3H8
MATCH - LIVERPOOL 4 NEWCASTLE 3, April 3 1996: What a match. The Magpies, having led the league by 12 points, arrived at Anfield three behind Manchester United. They were 3-2 up in an absolute thriller when Stan Collymore struck twice in the dying stages to leave Kevin Keegan hanging his head behind the hoardings in the dugout. Superb.
QUOTE - KEVIN KEEGAN’S “Love it”: With his Newcastle side having thrown away their huge lead in the title race, their ever-emotional manager finally cracked in front of millions watching on TV, me included. When asked in a live post-match interview about Sir Alex Ferguson’s suggestion that teams won’t try as much against the Magpies as they would his side, King Kev completely lost it, finishing his tirade with “I will love it if we beat them. Love it!”I love it now, but could barely watch at the time...
Arsenal v. Chelsea - 2-1
Aston Villa v. Sunderland - 1-0
Blackburn Rovers v. Norwich City - 2-1
Bolton Wanderers v. Swansea City - 1-0
Fulham v. Wigan Athletic - 2-0
Newcastle United v. Stoke City - 1-0
QPR v. Tottenham Hotspur - 1-2
Manchester United v. Everton - 2-0
Liverpool v. West Bromwich Albion - 2-0
Wolverhampton Wanderers v. Manchester City - 0-3