Footballers guilty of fall from grace
There was a headline in one of the red tops this week that had so many connotations it was hard not to laugh.
'Charlie Adam is still Tony Pulis'' it read. The story below said Tony Pulis wants his star midfielder 'to start acting like a proper Charlie.'
Honestly, it was red rag (forgive the pun) to a bull stuff for Norwich City fans who saw Pulis and Adam as the villains of the piece on Saturday.
Adams, you may remember, went down under a challenge from Javier Garrido. The referee blew his whistle – and booked Adam for taking a dive.
It released Pulis' anger valve, an interesting device which turns the Stoke manager's face red and at the same time causes his limbs to move in several different directions at the same time which, coincidentally, is what often happens when a player simulates a foul.
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Pulis' mood wasn't helped when, a minute before half-time, Robert Snodgrass was challenged by Andy Wilkinson. Snodgrass went down, Wilkinson was booked, and City scored the only goal of the game from the resulting free-kick.
It's fair to say before the case is stated, that it is not possible for anyone except those directly involved in a challenge to know exactly how forceful the contact is. The referee calls it as he sees it at the time. He has to. If post-match evidence suggests there was no contact, but he has whistled for a foul, he isn't wrong. He is just mistaken. If he believes at the time it was a foul, then he is right to blow his whistle for a foul.
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However, he finds himself in a more difficult position when everyone agrees there was contact – but they disagree on the effect.
Garrido made contact with Adam. But did Adam go down too easily. The ref said he did, Pulis said he didn't. The problem is, we really can't tell, even with the benefit of a replay.
The Wilkinson challenge on Snodgrass appeared, to me, to be very similar; contact was made, but did it really force Snodgrass to the ground? From my viewing position on the sofa at home, it didn't. From the referee's position it did. Again, he has a difficult decision; he was not wrong, but he may have been mistaken. And until we find a replacement for the flesh and blood of a match official, that is the way it has to be.
Which leads us nicely on to the real culprits in all this. The referee will always be the target of complaint and criticism, but it is very often those who aim the vitriol who are to blame. While players and ex-players admit that they will go to ground when contact is made, the further grows the distance between reality and fantasy.
Kyle Walker won (the very word sums up the way a foul is perceived) a penalty in the Capital One Cup match at Carrow Road last week after a challenge by Marc Tierney. Chris Hughton thought he made a meal of it. His response? 'I thought I got a clip so I went down. It was a foul. If I felt I was touched then I am going to go down. That's it.'
That has a horrible ring about it: it sounds too much like an admission of cheating. But football appears to have accepted the explanation that if you are touched, you go down.
Seems these miscreants have forgotten that they are not only cheating other footballers, but they are cheating the fan who forks out big money to line their fat pockets and watch an honest game, not to see Swan Lake with screw-in studs.
Hardly helps the referee makes a good decision, does it? How is he to know when a player is cheating or when it is genuine?
When Fernando Torres received a second yellow against Manchester United for taking a dive, the tackler, Jonny Evans, admitted there had been contact. But not enough to down the Spaniard. How the hell does a referee decide?
Footballers are not following the moral or ethical laws of the game; they are making up their own rules.
It would take a huge change of mindset for footballers to return to an honest approach to tackles. Perhaps it's the pressure of the vast financial rewards to be gained that makes footballers stoop a slow as they do.
Perhaps they should be made to watch a thing of genuine beauty – footage of George Best playing for Manchester United against Chelsea in January, 1971. Chopper Harris tries to bring him down in the traditional Chopper Harris style. Best stays on his feet, against all the odds. Brutality versus genius. Best goes on to round the goalkeeper and score. As you are supposed to do.
Pulis suggests players should be banned for cheating. He is correct. And he is brave to say it, because for too long managers have swept it under the carpet – although Pulis would do well not to complain when one of his own players stands accused.
Charlie Adam isn't alone. The game is full of players who could do so much more to make football a thing of beauty, not ridicule.