Wednesday 26 November ~
Following Manchester United's 0-0 draw away to Villarreal last night, Sir Alex Ferguson was in fine form when dealing with the press post-match. As well as inventing a whole new term for the home side's apparently relentless kicking of Cristiano Ronaldo (it's “systematic fouling”, by the way – keep an ear out for it in coming weeks), the infuriated Scotsman also took time out to reveal that Wayne Rooney had been busy touring El Madrigal apologising for his blatant attempt to deceive referee Roberto Rosetti into awarding a penalty against Argentine defender Fabricio Fuentes.
“It was uncharacteristic of Wayne. He thought he was going to be challenged and made the most of it. It was unusual of him and he has apologised to me,” a defensive Ferguson told the Guardian. “You don’t usually see it from him. I think he's been watching (Robert) Pires too much!” Quite. Ferguson's inability to resist a dig at the former Arsenal midfielder is indicative of an opinion set in the minds of many in the English game that our players simply do not dive.
As Rooney proved last night, regardless of whether he took the time to apologise to anyone who cared to listen (he also apparently said sorry to Gonzalo Rodriguez for another dive, in the first half), this assumption simply isn't true. However, when English players make as much noise about how they would never attempt to con the officials in such a way, it's easy to see where this idea originates. Indeed, go back just two years and you will find a youthful Rooney offering his thoughts on the subject: “I’d never dive. I’d like to think of myself as an honest player. That’s the way I play. I don’t like diving, football doesn’t need it,” he told the Sun.
But Rooney is far from the worst offender. That mantle, it seems, it reserved for his fellow Liverpudlian and, until recently, England's vice-captain Steven Gerrard. A quick sweep of the internet shows how easy it is to find example upon example of the Liverpool skipper's attempts to win free-kicks and penalties by falling under the softest (sometimes soft in the sense that they were non-existent) challenges. Interestingly, though, is that it is just as easy to find numerous statements from Gerrard on the subject, many bordering on the downright patronising. Among them: “Players like Carvalho and Ronaldo are damaging football” and “If I saw a team-mate doing it (diving), I would definitely have a word”.
The best of the lot? “I don't think there's anything worse than a player diving when no one's been anywhere near him. It does ruin the game.” As long as players continue to do what Gerrard has been doing for years and United's forward did last night then, I'm sorry Messrs Rooney and Ferguson, but any apologies are likely to fall on deaf ears. Jim Lucas