Picture the scene. It’s England vs Germany in the World Cup final in Russia — a match up that nobody saw coming.
Entering the final ten minutes, the game is finely tied, with Gareth Southgate’s surprise team defending heroically against the defending world champions. In a rare breakaway, Dele Alli finds himself sprinting free into the German box. Manuel Neuer rushes out to meet him, the Spurs man takes a touch around the Bayern Munich keeper and hits the ground.
The referee points to the spot without a moment’s hesitation. On first watch, it looks to be a clear decision. However, the replays tell a different story, showing that there was minimal contact. In fact, they show that Alli exaggerated the connection to earn the penalty. The decision has been made, though, and Harry Kane goes on to convert the spot kick and win England their first World Cup since 1966.
While the debate among the journalists and fans is about whether Alli dived and the morals behind it, it is not one that will last. Afterall, England have just won the World Cup, so really, who cares?
It’s almost guaranteed that none of the other nations would be as upset as the English. In fact, it’s ridiculous that ‘diving’ is such an issue in this country. That isn’t to say that diving is somehow laudable — that would be a ludicrous statement to make. Nobody wants to see players throwing themselves to the floor in an effort to earn a penalty or free kick (or worse — secure your opponent a booking or sending-off) when there is no contact.
But ensuring there is contact with a goalkeeper or defending player to guarantee that the referee must award in his favour? That’s just being smart. If the opportunity arises for the world’s best footballers to earn a penalty, they will take it without a second of doubt entering their minds. Why? Because their eyes are only on the prize, and not on how they will be perceived.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar and the rest of the footballing world’s best all do it, and will continue to do so. Eden Hazard has practically become an expert at earning dubious penalties. Watch them back and it’s almost guaranteed he engineered the situation to his favour, ensuring there was a foul somewhere. Is that cheating, or is it just being street smart? While most will argue the former, the uncomfortable truth is that it’s very much the latter.
At the end his career, will Hazard look back and regret his decisions? Of course not. And Neither will Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez or Neymar. They’ll look at their massive trophy hauls, winner’s medals, and Ballon D’or successes and be glad they did it. The only thing these players care about is the success; they have little to no worries about the perception of the average fan in the stands.
Negatives into positives
After his ludicrous dive against Liverpool, several pundits have castigated Alli for his actions and on this occasion the criticism is warranted. We can all agree, that outright diving like that only harms the player and the game. But in the greyer cases, when a player cannot score and knows that going down and exaggerating the contact will earn his side an advantage, the criticism shouldn’t be so forthcoming. In fact, rather than castigating these players, why aren’t they praised for transforming a situation that was turning against them into one that benefits them and their side? After all, aren’t the best players in the world the ones that can think on their feet and turn a negative into a positive?
If Alli, Kane, Raheem Sterling or any of the other players wearing England shirts in Russia this summer do it at a crucial moment, and it ultimately ends up benefitting the Three Lions, they should be praised for their actions. For too long now England have been outdone by their opponents on the world stage, opponents who will use these dark arts to their advantage. It’s the reason that they’re now ranked so lowly in international football and can barely remember the last time they challenged at an international tournament.
The victors write history and its time England, and English football, embraced the dark arts to their advantage. If they don’t, they’ll continue to be left behind.